Allen Chance approached the counter at Earthly Awakenings and quickly made his selection.
Of the different varieties of spice available for purchase Thursday, he decided on a brand called “Pink Kitty” and bought a three-gram container for $16.
The label is clear: “Not for human consumption.” However, Chance has been smoking the substance for the past six months.
“It’s relaxing,” he said. “In some cases, it allows me to focus.”
The 29-year-old, who moved to Logan from the Atlanta area earlier this year, said he’s been around “a lot of spice smokers” while living in the valley.
“You know, we sit and we watch TV, talk, have fun, whatever — nothing really outlandish,” he said. “We don’t go crazy or whatever; we just chill.”
But Chance and his friends might not be able to smoke the substance much longer in Cache Valley without facing some possible legal consequences.
Spice is the generic name, as well as a brand name, for a mixture of crushed-up, benign herbs laced with a synthetic chemical that when smoked reportedly causes effects similar to those of marijuana.
Last week, the Cache County Council outlawed the “manufacture, distribution, possession or use” of spice in all unincorporated areas of the county, and the Logan Municipal Council is currently considering an ordinance that would do the same within the city limits. A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday night.
And that’s just the beginning.
According to Deputy Cache County Attorney Don Linton, the Bear River Board of Health, which Linton sits on, will also be mulling whether to criminalize spice across the entire jurisdiction of the Bear River Health District — Cache, Box Elder and Rich counties. In fact, a draft regulation has already been written, and the board plans to hold a public hearing on the issue next month.
“The mandate is to make sure that the public is safe,” Linton said. “And if we see something that is a threat to the health and safety of the public, we need to do something about that.”
Health professionals in Cache County have come out vehemently in favor of banning the substance.
At a public hearing held by the County Council last month, Dr. Jim Davis, executive director of Utah State University’s Student Health & Wellness Center, argued in support of the ban. Davis also chairs the local board of health.
“Even the same brand of these drugs may contain vastly different dosages of the cannabinoids,” Davis said. “And at different times, you may get different strengths, even from the same brand. There’s no way to know how big of a dose you’re getting when you buy a brand. No drug is safe if you don’t know how much you’re getting. If you can’t dose it, you really shouldn’t take it.”
Davis added, “As a doctor, I usually look at things like medicines or even treatments in the respect of risk versus benefit. ... I can’t find a benefit of taking spice. So I would urge the council to work by whatever means ... you can to ban the substance.”
He said possible complications from synthetic cannabinoids such as spice could include increased heart rate, stress on blood vessels and symptoms of withdrawal.
“So while we don’t have a lot of research yet on them, they are thought to be addictive,” Davis said.
Breck Rushton, emergency department manager at Logan Regional Hospital, told The Herald Journal on Thursday that since the beginning of the year, there have been roughly two to four patients per week visiting the emergency room who self reported that they had been using spice.
The hospital does not currently test specifically for spice, since the test is expensive and would need to be analyzed off site in Salt Lake City. It would take a couple days to get the results back, and by that time, patients would be “healed, treated and gone,” said Rushton.
“We are not testing for the use of spice as far as a chemical test,” Rushton said, noting the hospital does do an assessment, including a urine toxicity screen, to rule out illegal drugs and try to determine the cause of symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and dehydration — the major symptoms of spice, according to Rushton.
Asked if spice poses a greater health risk than the use of alcohol, Rushton replied, “I would say no, because alcohol’s a greater health risk as far as accidents and all that.”
Rushton added that roughly 220 patients have visited the hospital’s emergency room this year related to spice.
Chance, however, said neither he nor any of his friends have ever gotten sick from smoking the substance. He estimated he knows about 25 different individuals that have smoked spice.
“All the people I’ve dealt with, they’re like hard core; they like the stuff,” Chance said. “They’ll sit there and smoke it all day if you let ’em, and I’ve never really seen them have any ill effects. I’ve never seen anybody get sick. I’ve never seen anybody have to go to the hospital. ... I mean, I’ve just never seen it.”
Jess Gomez, spokesman for the Intermountain Health Care hospitals in the Salt Lake Valley, said spice hasn’t been a significant issue for the emergency room doctors in those facilities. They include the following: LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Alta View Hospital in Sandy, Riverton Hospital and Park City Medical Center.
“We are not seeing anything significant, and in fact, not a lot of it at all, in terms of people coming in with problems ... that have been identified to spice,” Gomez said, noting that could be due to a new trend showing up in Utah.
“Oftentimes, you don’t see the negative health consequences start to take place ... until after it’s been here for a little bit,” said Gomez.
He added, “And because spice is fairly new, I don’t think that there’s a really good handle yet on how big of a problem it is.”
By Charles Geraci
September 19, 2010