In September, a sheriff’s deputy in Statesboro responded to a call and found a young man who reportedly had nearly beaten his girlfriend to death with a beer mug after both had ingested the drug spice.
While the girlfriend ended up in intensive care with a shattered cheek and eye socket, a plate in her jaw and a bruised brain, her boyfriend was charged with aggravated assault with the intent to murder, changing both of their lives forever.
Also in September, a Richmond Hill man was arrested at a gas station in Rincon after allegedly soliciting women outside the business for sex then getting in a car with a woman and her 11-year-old daughter with his pants unzipped and soliciting them for sex. The man claims he was high on the drug spice.
These are just a few of the recent incidents involving what has become a major problem in our state and our nation — the illegal use of the drug spice.
Spice, slang for synthetic cannabis or marijuana, is a mixture of medicinal herbs and spices that are sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids. It typically is sold in small, silvery plastic bags of dried leaves and marketed as incense that can be smoked. It is said to resemble potpourri.
There are more than 200 different chemicals that are considered synthetic cannabinoids. One of these synthetic cannabinoids, JWH-018, first was made in 1995 for experimental purposes in the lab of Clemson University researcher Dr. John W. Huffman. Spice became popular because JWH-018 can be made easily by combining a few commercial products.
These synthetic cannabinoids have an effect similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active compound in marijuana. They cause psychoactive behavior, including euphoria, decrease overall activity, produce analgesia, decrease body temperature and produce catalepsy, a trancelike state marked by loss of voluntary motion.
While the long term adverse effects of the drug’s use are unknown at this time, it is known to stay in the body for a long period of time, and JWH-018 and its many cousins have a chemical structure shared with known cancer-causing agents.
Dr. Huffman, the inventor of JWH-018, once told an interviewer, “It’s like Russian roulette to use these drugs. We don’t know a (darn) thing about them for real.”
Known by names such as Algerian blend, genie, K2, smoke, chill X, sense, Yuatan fire, spice diamond, spice silver and spice gold, the drugs can be purchased from gas stations, convenience stores, tobacco shops and head shops. The availability of these drugs has become such a problem near some military bases that military personnel have been prohibited from shopping at stores that carry these products.
Another problem in trying to contain these drugs is their availability from online sellers.
Nevertheless, attempts to ban the sales of these drugs are being made on the state and federal levels.
This past legislative session, as part of the yearly update to the Georgia Dangerous Drug Act, I sponsored legislation that made certain compounds that are classified as spice Schedule 1 drugs — meaning that they have no known medicinal use and are for experimental use only — controlled substances, rendering them illegal in Georgia.
In September, the Drug Enforcement Administration used its emergency authority to ban certain chemicals used in these products, calling them an “imminent hazard” to the public. Now these chemicals are illegal in all states, not just the ones that have classified them as such in their state statutes.
However, enforcement remains a problem for a number of reasons. Lack of law-enforcement manpower, Internet availability and having to analyze the contents of each package in order to determine the contents remain a challenge, but the biggest problem is that the clandestine labs that produce these drugs simply change over to another compound that has not been scheduled, which makes it legal to sell.
While we will continue to seek legislative remedies to this problem, only through education about the hazards of this drug’s use will we be able to contain the issue.
Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building, room 301-A,
Atlanta, Ga., 30334, 404-656-5109.