Spice is a synthetic marijuana substitute that has recently been responsible for hundreds of people checking into emergency rooms around the nation.
Around 250 hospital visits caused by the drug have been recorded during April in Mobile County, Ala., alone. An estimated 462 people around the Cotton State have been treated for complications from the drug during that period.
Emergency room visits in 2015 are far beyond where they were during the previous year. During the 13 days between April 11 and 23, 2014, hospitals in Mobile County treated 52 people for problems related to taking spice, either eating or smoking the drug. One of those patients, a 60-year-old male, died from complications of ingesting the drug.
"The public must understand the overwhelming danger associated with spice and other poisonous substances like it. It's causing people to become seriously ill, including creating potential kidney damage in some," said Dr. Bernard Eichold, Health Officer for Mobile County.
The Mobile County Health Department is considering taking civil legal action against retail establishments that sell spice due to the great toll the substance is taking on the public health system in the state. However, law enforcement officials believe the drug is now also being sold on the street, as black market dealers start to replace retail storefront distributors.
When synthetic marijuana first came on the market at the start of the millennium, the product was sold in clearly marked packages with catchy brand names such as Scooby Snax and Train Wreck. This packaging allowed police to track production and distribution, but now the drug is increasingly being sold in unmarked clear plastic bags.
"The differences we are seeing are that it is distributed more street-level, person-to-person than in previous years. Because of this, there is also information that the spice on the streets now is not the commercial grade imported from overseas but instead a homemade variety, made with any amount of household chemicals," said Ashley Rains, spokeswoman for the Mobile Police Department.
Arrests for possession of spice have risen in Alabama, leading police to conduct thorough investigations of manufacturing and distribution networks.
Synthetic marijuana can result in the user experiencing nausea, accelerated heart rates, confusion, lethargy and hallucinations. These products contain synthetic cannabinoids, which produce some of euphoria associated with natural marijuana, but they can also be accompanied by a wide range of negative health effects not associated with cannabis.
These forms of synthetic marijuana were developed to avoid the prohibition placed on marijuana by most states and the federal government. At first, manufacturers claimed their products were mixtures of natural herbs, each adding to a pleasurable effect. Only later did it become apparent that most were created synthetically.
Spice and other artificial forms of marijuana, unlike the natural form of the drug, can result in withdrawal symptoms and death.
Photo: Szapucki | Flickr