The Spice craze has now settled firmly into the California drug scene, and with it come increasing reports of overdoses, hospital visits, and even death.
Police say at least 10 people overdosed on synthetic marijuana in downtown San Diego in late November. Details were initially scarce, but it appears the victims may have used Spice together or shared a dealer.
Five adults and five minors, aged 13 to 28, developed “mild to serious symptoms” after consuming the drug Nov. 22, police said. Some of the users were unconscious and others were vomiting, police said. Several were sent to hospital emergency rooms.
Officials with the San Diego Fire & Rescue Department said the Spice may have been packaged in blue envelopes with drawings of blue dragons on the side. Police were searching for other people who may have bought or used the dangerous supply.
Spice is a synthetic form of cannabis, stolen from research labs by rogue scientists and peddled as a cheap alternative to marijuana that won’t set off drug tests or k9 dogs. It also goes by names such as Annihilation, K2, Black Mamba, and Mojo.
Can cause adverse effects
It was designed to mimic the effects of real cannabis, but it also packs a nasty punch. Negative side effects can start with rapid heart rate and ratchet up quickly to vomiting, seizures, and death. Casualty statistics are hard to come by, but police across the country say the drug has killed at least a handful of people in recent years.
The problem has been most acute in the Eastern United States, where Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other Atlantic states have seen a dramatic uptick in ER admissions for Spice. Synthetic cannabis has plagued some of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods for months.
Spice is especially attractive to young people and the homeless, mostly because of its bargain-basement cost: just a few dollars a package. It’s also sometimes legal, depending on the chemical formulation, but health experts say that’s misleading; even legal synthetic marijuana is very dangerous – far more hazardous than the real thing.
Nationwide crackdown on spice
The DEA has launched a national crackdown on Spice, but not soon enough to stop it from insinuating itself in California. Fatalities have already been reported: Last year a Los Angeles couple claimed their teenage son died after smoking a single hit.
Such things are notoriously hard to prove, in large part because synthetic drugs are almost untraceable, even in an autopsy or toxicology test. Doctors were unable to say whether the teen even had Spice in his system, let alone whether it killed him.
But police and health experts across the state are taking the threat seriously.
“You can buy designer drugs of abuse at convenience stores and on the Internet,” Dr. Andrew Monte told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year. “People may not realize how dangerous these drugs can be — up to 1,000 times stronger binding to cannabis receptors when compared to traditional marijuana.”