It’s not oregano, saffron or cinnamon, and it isn’t something you’re likely to find at the supermarket.
No, you’re more likely to find K2 Spice (also known simply as spice) at smoke shops or available online for purchase, and you probably won’t want to use it in your kitchen.
Dubbed ‘synthetic pot’ by some, spice is a product designed to mirror the look and feel of marijuana, all the while remaining completely legal and unregulated. What gives spice its kick is a chemical called JWH-018, which was produced in the mid-nineties in an attempt to recreate the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. This chemical is sprayed on a combination of herbs and sold under the moniker of being an ‘herbal incense’. Other blends may use a similar chemical called CP 47,497, which has the same effect as JWH-018.
However, just because it’s sold as incense, doesn’t stop people from smoking the relatively unknown ‘drug.’
“When you go to the website, it says ‘not for human consumption,’ and it has fifty comments from people who have smoked it, saying how great it is,” said Jay Niver, communications/marketing director of the Alcohol Drug Education Service, “So people are finagling around the laws when they say that it’s not for human consumption, but they obviously want people to smoke it and that’s how they’re making their money.”
Niver also notes that just because spice is currently legal to buy, doesn’t necessarily make it a product that’s safer than illegal drugs, and it may even be more harmful than illegal drugs that have been around for years.
“Anything that’s legal, people assume it can’t be bad for you, because if it were bad then they would make it illegal,” said Niver, “But the thing is, because it’s such a relatively new drug, there’s no research on it. Nobody knows what it can do to you at this point and the early returns, at least in the states, is that there are people going to emergency rooms after smoking this stuff.”
It’s these kinds of instances that have prompted U.S. lawmakers to take note of spice, and action has already been taken by several states to ban it altogether. So far, the only state to ban the substance is Kansas.
And while the U.S. has only just begun to take notice of spice, Europe has already had its fair share of experiences with the stuff. Spice appeared on the drug scene a few years prior in Europe, which lead to the widespread knowledge and eventual banning of it in several countries across the continent. Germany, Russia, and Sweden have all banned the product, and in the United Kingdom, possession of spice now carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Here in Canada however, spice appears to remain relatively unknown, which is why it’s legal, and potentially more dangerous than the illegal drugs that are available on the streets.
Despite it being sold in stores, and being available online, there are no regulations or restrictions that spice manufacturers have to adhere to, and so users don’t know what exactly they’re getting.
“From my understanding, you can’t even find out where this stuff is made and where it’s coming from so it’s just a crapshoot,” said Niver, “That’s the problem with ecstasy, is that you almost never get pure ecstasy, you’re usually getting something else and that’s what the risk is.”
Niver likens taking spice to playing Russian roulette, as users have no clue what exactly is going into their body, and what sort of effect it will have on them.
“Alcohol is the most abused substance of all even though it’s perfectly legal,” said Niver, “but at least you know what you’re getting if you buy it at the liquor store. You’re getting a controlled substance. You don’t know what you’re getting when you try spice, or ecstasy, or any of the other homemade drugs.”
By Christopher Poon
APril 13, 2010