Australians are experimenting with an illegal synthetic form of marijuana that does not show up on standard drug tests and is passing under the noses of customs officials.
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The drug, commonly known by the brand name Spice, is being ordered from overseas and packaged to look like a mixture of common incense herbs.
But it is laced with a potent illegal chemical that produces a strikingly similar effect to marijuana when smoked.
An office worker in Australia's mining industry told ninemsn he had ordered the drug online from Europe on two occasions, and received it both times.
"It was sent in an urgent document delivery envelope," he said.
"Inside was a catalogue for a London shopping centre, and inside that was my Spice."
"I thought it was a little bit suspicious."
The source, who agreed to speak under condition of anonymity, said smoking Spice produces nearly the same effect as smoking marijuana.
"The effects it produces are felt within minutes of inhaling — there is an overwhelming 'stoned' sensation," he said.
He said he used to take other drugs but could not anymore because his place of employment enforced a random drug test policy.
"Spice is not detected by industry standard drug tests," he said.
"I can confirm this as I've been smoking it over the past few months and successfully passed a drug test last month."
Spice has been sold in parts of Europe and Canada since 2002, but only emerged from its underground status in the drug world over the past year.
A search on online forums reveals many Australians are interested in trying Spice.
One Queenslander wrote that a package he ordered was opened by Australian Customs, who left an inspection note inside but failed to notice the illicit contents.
"Australian customs ripped thru my baggie and taped it back up saying they didn't find anything," he wrote, and posted photographs of the notice.
Although the product is sold as incense and "not for human consumption", tests conducted in several countries over the past year have found the product is laced with synthetic chemicals designed to produce a psychedelic effect when smoked.
A US government report issued in March said the synthetic cannabinoids found in Spice are so similar to the real thing it deemed the drug "stealth marijuana".
Spice is illegal in several countries, including Australia where it falls under strict analogue drug laws.
"If Spice is or contains a synthetic cannabinoid ... then it is captured by the Schedule 9 entry for cannabis," a Department of Health spokesman told ninemsn.
The health effects of using Spice are still relatively unknown, but a German case study published in July said it was "strongly addictive" and cited a regular user who felt a "continuous craving for the drug".
The source in the mining industry said he was "becoming increasily wary of ingesting strange, untested chemicals".
"MDMA and marijuana, while relatively safe in moderation, have been heavily policed," he said.
"As a result, people such as myself are delving into the 'research chemical' drugs."
"Will this drug cause adverse health issues down the track? I certainly hope not, but with limited information out there, who knows?"
By Henri Paget
August 6, 2009