It goes by many names, but I only heard it called "Spice." Spice is defined by the NIDA, National Institute on Drug Abuse, as a “dried, shredded plant material with chemical additives that are responsible for their psychoactive effects.” Spice is synthetic marijuana. These chemical additives, when analyzed, show the active ingredients are designer cannabinoid compounds, not naturally occurring compounds that real marijuana possesses. It’s these natural compounds that are extracted from marijuana for medicinal purposes.
            There’s a lot of mixed feelings and attention revolving around marijuana these days, but authentic marijuana looks like cookies compared to the harmful effects of completely legal cannabinoids. This is a problem for two main reasons: synthetic marijuana mimics some of the effects of getting high, such as a sense relaxation and elevated moods, so younger adults are drawn to it, and, and more importantly, this easily-abused pseudo-drug is chemically-ridden and more dangerous than (illegal) marijuana will ever be. In 2010 it was reported over 11,000 ER visits were associated with Spice.
            “Oh, you’re going to the gas station? You’ve got to pick some spice up, it’s cheap,” my roommate Anthony said over the phone. I was on my way to meet up with him, and decided I would stop by the gas station on my way. I didn’t know what spice was then, but at the front counter I asked for Mr. Smiley. Ten dollars got me a little jar with a screw-on lid about the size of a Carmex tub. The label had a yellow smiley face on it. I gave Mr. Smiley to Anthony and watched as he took out an envelope of white rolling papers, dumped the contents of the tub, which looked like I could sprinkle in an olive oil bread dip or maybe in a red pasta sauce, and rolled four cigarette-like sticks. Anthony says, “It’s like weed, but it’s legal.” When he lit one up, it smelled like potpourri, a little, with a hint of chemicals. I instantly received a headache. How could anyone put this in his/her body? It’s random leaves sprayed with mind-altering chemicals with compounds similar to THC. But it’s not herbal at all.
            There are hundreds of types of synthetic marijuana being sold as incense and potpourri in gas stations all over the country. It’s terrifyingly difficult to regulate so it’s easy to buy in public. It stays under the radar because chemicals keep changing to fit regulation. The NIDA notes because the chemical composition of many products sold as Spice is unknown, it is likely that some varieties also contain substance that could cause “dramatically different effects than the user might expect, such as hallucination, paranoia, and violent outbursts.”
            This is a facet of synthetic marijuana that everyone should be aware of. Random plant bit sprayed with chemicals travel from the lungs into the bloodstream and carry the chemical to the brain and trigger paranoia and violence. A twenty-five year old recently arrested for hitting and pushing two children at the grocery store admitted to using synthetic marijuana earlier that day. The county police noted how synthetic marijuana makes people “delusional and paranoid; that’s been a common trend with people using.”
            Being roommates with a drug dealer meant spending ample time with strangers who looked like dirty hippies or college kids. It also meant spending ample time around a lot of people high on marijuana. One beautiful Saturday I was out on the porch, reading for class. Soon, Anthony and a few strangers gathered around with a plastic bag. All I heard was Anthony say, “if you start to panic or hallucinate, remember you’re okay and that we’re here.” This was a common cautionary statement for anyone trying new and especially hallucinogenic drugs, so I didn’t think much of it at first. But then, I remembered marijuana doesn’t make one hallucinate. I’ve even seen people “too high” before. They either stare at the sky or floor or TV or dog or picture of a dog on a book, or they go to sleep. I’ve experienced parties where the smoke emitting from my house could be mistaken for a house fire. No one ever hallucinated, became hostile, or had seizures.
            The group on my porch smoked, and the potpourri scent took over the porch. They were smoking Spice. Everyone was standing around, having a great time, and then one girl wasn’t. I saw her, a warped piece of plywood, restrictively falling, eyes and mouth wide, voice saying nothing; then she’s flat on the ground, looking up into the cosmos, seeing things none of us are seeing. Within five minutes she was dropped back into reality. She said that’s what it felt like: like waking up after being hypnotized.
            “I thought I was saying help me! Help me! I couldn’t move, I could only hear a loud ringing and see waves. I didn’t even recognize anyone.”

Published by Kristiane Weeks-Rogers