“Spice,” a synthetic form of marijuana legally sold in local head shops and corner stores, has shouldered its way into the mainstream over the past two years. And like most everything else fun and popular, it has landed on the government’s hit list. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced a partial ban on spice last week. Why partial? Because nothing in the knotty world of fake weed is ever quite as it seems.
Often referred to by the common brand name K2, spice mimics the effects of good-old dirt-grown marijuana. It reportedly packs a punch, but does not show up on drug tests — making it a hit with nervous office workers and cons on probation.
“It just takes one hit and it’s pretty amazing,” says one noted expert.
Like chemically laced potpourri, the product is sold — with a friendly wink — for use as incense, along with bongs or rolling papers intended for smoking harmless tobacco products. But brand names like Mr. Nice Guy, Blaze, Demon Passion Smoke, and Puff leave little question as to exactly why consumers are forking over their dimes for spice.
And fork over they have. One shop employee who asked not to be identified says spice is a huge seller and that customers come from all walks of life.
“It’s blown up big time,” he says. “This stuff works exceptionally well.”
But harshing that mellow is last week’s news that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has banned five ingredients commonly used to make spice. Those five are now designated Schedule I narcotics, on par with party favors like Ecstasy, LSD, and marijuana.
“These chemicals were not made to be used on humans, and they’ve never been studied for their short- or long-term effects,” DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno tells Scene.
“There have been many reports to poison control centers and emergency room visits from people who have used these products and experience negative symptoms such as seizures, hallucinations, tachycardia — things like that.”
The good news for recreational incense sniffers: 75 other ingredients used to make spice have dodged the DEA’s radar. Carreno admits the agency limited the ban to five chemicals because it doesn’t have time to test the others.
It remains unclear how local officials plan to crack down on the newly controlled substance. According to a spokesman, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has only begun reviewing the ban to determine its effect on law enforcement.
Meanwhile, still-legal versions of spice continue to fly off area shelves. In the words of one helpful shopkeeper: “We’re selling the shit out of it.”