A University department is trying to learn more about synthetic marijuana.
Tiffany Martinez, health educator for UNM’s Campus Office of Substance Abuse and Prevention (COSAP), said her department is conducting more research on ‘spice.’ She said the marijuana alternative is a relatively young drug.
“Since spice is so new, we still have yet to do some research about it,” Martinez said. “We’re looking through peer-reviewed articles and journals just get more familiar with it. We have to keep ourselves up to date.”
Martinez said COSAP first heard about the drug earlier this year, when the office learned shops in the area have been selling it since last year.
Spice gained popularity because, although its effects are comparable to marijuana’s, police had no way of testing for it, Martinez said. However, she said, now there are tests for spice — and it’s turning out to be a lot more dangerous than marijuana.
“We’ve seen a lot more hospital visits with spice … probably because of its synthetic form,” she said.
Lieutenant Tim Stump, public information officer for the UNM Police Department, said that although police have already developed a testing process for spice, officers still don’t have access to it on a wide scale.
“For law enforcement officers, it’s a new kind of thing in America,” he said. “As soon as they made it available to law enforcers, we’re going to be able to test it.”
Stump said spice is very dangerous to users in the long run because it can result to increased anxiety, paranoia and other psychotic symptoms.
“I look at it as being another form of meth,” he said. “I believe it’s directly in correlation with the meth epidemic. I think that it’s addictive and very potent, and the aftereffects are horrible. I wouldn’t want anyone near it.”
So far there are 27 known compounds classified as ‘spice,’ Stump said. He said all of these are illegal according to state statutes. Possession of any of these substances is considered a petty misdemeanor, which can entail at least 6 months in prison.
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Selling spice is considered a fourth-degree felony and entails up to three years in prison.
Stump said stores can sell spice as long as it is not in the form of any of the 27 prohibited compounds. But he said stores often label the synthetic drug with a sign that says “not for human consumption” to protect themselves from getting sued by people who acquire health complications from using the drug.
Stump said there can be hundreds of spice variations on the market that are equally dangerous.
“What they’re doing to stay ahead of law enforcement is that they’re changing the chemicals,” he said. “What you may have today, you may have one tomorrow that is not containing one of the 27. We believe there’s about over 400 different compounds.”
Stump said UNMPD has not encountered students using spice on campus in the past. But he said the department has arrested non-students who were using spice at UNM.
On Oct. 9, two men who were smoking spice while driving a stolen vehicle crashed and overturned near Parish Library. Nobody was injured in the incident, and the two men were arrested immediately after.
Stump said the lack of reports regarding spice is due to the drug’s less noticeable nature.
“I think it’s because that if somebody walks down the hall and they smell marijuana, they know what it smells like,” he said. “As far as spice goes, it’s being used in evaporated cigarettes right now. It’s a spice, so it smells good; it smells strange, but to anybody walking around, they’re not going to know what it is. They’re not going to call and say, ‘Something weird is over here.’”
Although UNMPD does not have data on the use of spice among UNM students, Stump said spice has more potential to be popular because students do not have to go to black markets to find it. He said the department aims to prevent student use of spice by raising awareness about the dangers of the drug.
“I think it’s easy to obtain,” he said. “It can go by the credit card instead of behind the alley. You don’t have to hide to buy it.”
Though this semester COSAP still hasn’t encountered any reports of spice use among UNM students, Martinez also said spice has the potential to become popular on campus because of outside portrayals.
“I think it’s becoming more popular because we’re seeing it a lot in the media,” she said. “The media always portrays everything to be bigger than it is.”