Synthetic marijuana targeted for statewide band

Samantha Worgull

Not for human consumption — four words that are printed on a package of Spice, a premium herbal incense blend that is sold at smoke shops around Ohio.

The problem, though, is people are not abiding by that warning.

Spice, or what some refer to as “K2,” is a legal substance that many people are smoking because it is thought to contain synthetic cannibinoids that produce effects similar to THC in marijuana. But some users think otherwise.

“It did not impair my physical motions or alter my state of mind,” said Maeve Doley, junior crafts major, about her first time trying Spice. “It was an interesting experience, not one I would run around telling all my friends about but interesting nonetheless.”

But Ohio lawmakers like State Rep. Margaret Ruhl, R-Mount Vernon, a lead sponsor of House Bill 544, trust there is a danger in smoking the substance. If passed, House Bill 544 will label Spice a Schedule I controlled substance, banning it from being sold in stores.

“It’s marketed as incense or a smoking herb, so there is no quality control or regulation involved,” said Michquel Penn, Kent State University police officer. “So there is a chance that someone abusing it doesn’t actually know what they’re putting into the body.”

The incense sells for around $30 for three grams, a high price in comparison to other incense that costs around $2 for a box. Puff-n-Stuff in Kent and The Odd Corner in Akron carry the product, but none of their owners were willing to speak about sales.

“It definitely gives a new energy to your activities during that moment,” Doley said. “It made me laugh, but that could have been the company.”

Many smoke shops in and around Kent keep a stocked shelf of the product with scents such as blueberry, strawberry and grape.

“People, especially young people, have a specific interest in these kinds of chemicals and their effects,” said Kele Ding, assistant professor of health sciences. “They are always looking for something to enjoy, and if it’s not this one, they will look for others.”

But opponents of the “drug” say it can cause dangerous side effects like vomiting, fast heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, extreme agitation and hallucinations, Penn said. Because these are common side effects of other drugs, it can be hard to tell if Spice is in the user’s system.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug related visits to hospital emergency rooms and drug-related deaths investigated by medical examiners and coroners. Spice is not one of the drugs it recognizes.

Ding, who teaches Drug Use and Misuse, says he hasn’t heard much of anything about the drug from his students.

Within the past two years, Kent State police have only had one to two cases involving Spice, Penn said. Despite it, the push to ban “spice” in Ohio, the 11th state that will have banned the drug, is on its way to passing.

“If legislation does make K-2 illegal,” Penn said, “we will enforce its use like we would any other illegal drug: through proactive and reactive measures.”

Contact Samantha Worgull at [email protected].