"Legal marijuana" raises concerns among authorities - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

"Legal marijuana" raises concerns among authorities

By Sylvia Hall – bio | email

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) – You may have heard it called "Spice Gold," or "K-2."  Here in South Mississippi, it goes by a myriad of names. 

Simply put, spice is an herb sold as incense in local shops.  But the chemicals sprayed on it create a high that has many smokers flocking to buy spice, instead of marijuana.  Critics are worried the new pot alternative could hold some hidden dangers.

The substance is not for human consumption.  But still, many people know it for the pot-like high smokers say it induces.

"It's a similar feeling to smoking marijuana," said one of many people who spoke to us about the substance on the condition of anonymity. "As far as slowing things down or kind of paying attention to details, whether it's a movie or a song."

The man has smoked spice for several months, about three times each week.  Although he didn't want his face or name revealed, he said he prefers spice because it's not illegal and doesn't show up in drug tests.

"I decided that smoking marijuana wasn't the best option because of all the legal ramifications," said the man.  "So, [I thought] hearing from that this was basically a legal substitute.  And I gave it a try.  And I guess the feeling is somewhat similar, so that's why I've continued to do it."

He added he's never experienced any negative side-effects from smoking the substance.  He said he buys one of the many variations of spice at local shops.  WLOX spoke with several store owners who supposedly sell spice brands, but none agreed to go on camera.

"You can just walk in and ask for it," said the smoker.  "And there you go."

Although prices may vary, sources told us a half gram of spice could be sold for about $10 at a store. They also told us a gram and a half could be sold for about $55.

On the surface, spice may seem like the perfect pot alternative, but Dr. Andrew Marsh said he's seen a darker side of the substance in Singing River Hospital's emergency room.

"We've had a couple who have passed out, and who have had problems subsequent to that, including one female who fell after passing out and struck her eye," said Marsh.  "And she could have lost her eye."

Marsh listed several other problems he understands could be caused by smoking the various brands of spice.

"What we've seen is tachycardia , [which means a] heart rate could go really high," said Marsh.  "What I have seen is people passing out, what we call synchopy, or old school fainting."

Marsh said some of the complications associated with spice could potentially threaten lives.

"You get behind the wheel of a car and you pass out, anything's possible," said Marsh.

At the Jackson County Narcotics Task Force, Commander Curtis Spiers has heard similar reports, especially about teens.

"We've had some parents that have called us and reported some children having problems with blackouts; one child reportedly went into a coma," said Spiers.  "[It's] described to us as an intense high leading to those blackouts. And it's very short-lived, is what we understand."

The biggest concern for both men is that they believe spice abuse seems to be on the rise in South Mississippi.

"It's just exploded onto the scene, and we have kids going around experimenting and they have no idea of what they're dealing with and that potentially could really harm them," said Marsh.

"If it were my child that blacked out and I had to put in the hospital four times in a week, I would be a highly upset parent," said Spiers.  "And I would be highly agitated about this.  Unfortunately, we don't know where to turn at this point.  We're stuck with the problem that it's not a controlled substance, it's not an illegal substance.

Spiers said although spice is not a narcotic and is not illegal, his department is aware is potential problems that could stem from overuse of the substance.

"It's something that we have great concern over," said Spiers.  "Unfortunately we have nothing with legal teeth that will allow us to do anything at this point."

Although spice use seems to be a relatively new trend in South Mississippi, the smoker said he has not had concerns about his health while smoking it.

"I guess I never really thought of it that way," he said.  "Because I figure, hey, if they're able to sell it, then it should be alright."

Marsh said he believes people should still be wary of putting the product into their systems, not because of the herbs used to make it, but the substance sprayed on top.

"It's a chemical that's sprayed, just like a pesticide," said Marsh.  "And you're smoking, purportedly something that's natural, and that's hogwash, for lack of a better way of putting it."

Although the product is labeled "not sold for human consumption," and some stores post signs warning the same, our smoker hopes authorities will investigate it.

"If people are going to be using this substance, it needs to be made sure that it's not a detriment to anyone's health," said the smoker.  "But I'm glad that someone's out there looking to get all the facts about this substance."

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