UF professor: ‘Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s safe
One deep inhale.
Sandy breathes in the smoke, filling her lungs with the fragrant incense labeled “not for human consumption.”
One long exhale.
“It kinda tastes like flowers,” she said. Smells like it, too.
Sandy, who did not want her last name used in order to protect her identity, said she didn’t feel anything but a little hyper after smoking the hand-rolled cigarette filled with Cobra, an herbal incense blend sold legally in St. Augustine.
Spice, K2 or Triad — all herbal incense blends available legally throughout St. Augustine — are growing in popularity, as some who are spending money on the blend are substituting it for its natural and illegal counterpart: marijuana.
“It’s a legal substance, even though it’s stupid,” said Officer Lynda Mobley, a detective for the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.
Mobley said she’s been researching the blends for the past year, but because they are legal, statistics about the blends are hard to come by, especially because the substance does not show up on drug tests.
“People who would be deterred from smoking marijuana would be more likely to try something like this,” she said.
The Drug Enforcement Agency considers these products as “synthetic cannabinoids”: legal substances laced with a chemical compound similar to the one found within marijuana — THC.
The synthetic THC is then sprayed on herbal or vegetable blends, which can be burned as incenses but also rolled into joints and smoked, said Paul Doering, a professor at the University of Florida’s Pharmacotherapy and Translational Research department at the College of Pharmacy.
Doering, who is also co-director of Florida’s Drug Information and Pharmacy Resource Center, said the synthetic THC could be more dangerous than marijuana itself, mostly because scientists have not completed enough research on the new chemical compound.
“Nobody really knows for sure what this chemical is,” he said. “Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s safe.”
He said the age group most closely associated with the chemical are high-school and college-aged young adults, who “are younger and more adventurous and who have a lot to lose from failing a drug test.”
“It’s a growing phenomenon,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time before there is a test for it and before it’s rendered illegal.”
The herbal incense blends are distributed legally as products “not for human consumption” — a command often not followed by its customers, like 18-year-old Austin Bamberg.
Bamberg bought blueberry Triad at the Oldest Drug Store on Tuesday afternoon. Employees at the drug store asked him his age and assured him of the blend’s purpose — as a natural, herbal incense — before he paid $20 for the one-gram pack.
He already knew about what they told him. He also knew what he was going to do with it.
“Smoke it,” he said.
Bamberg said smoking the blend brings on a high similar to that of marijuana, but without the negative consequences of potentially failing a drug test.
“Everybody who has to take a drug test will smoke this,” he said. “It’s not worth the money, but if you’re desperate, you’ll get it.”
The owners of the Oldest Drug Store in downtown St. Augustine declined to comment.Parents bewareWith this synthetic product growing in popularity, should parents be concerned about the substance?
“You betcha,” Doering said. “Parents need to be on the lookout.”
Doering said the high from this substance is not as mellow or as pleasant as the one often received by using marijuana, which could create a dangerous situation for users of the blend.
The Drug Enforcement Administration website said the substance decreased activity, relieved pain, decreased body temperature and caused muscle rigidity in mice. Human effects are unknown, although news articles have reported that hundreds of teens have ended up in emergency rooms nationwide from using the substances.
Doering also compared the hype of the synthetic blend to salvia, a hallucinogen now illegal in the United States.
“Nobody really knows exactly what’s in this stuff,” he said.
Mobley said she hopes once people realize how bad the chemical is, the popularity will pass.
“We’re hoping it’s just going to be a fad,” she said.
But at a high price and no results, Sandy won’t stick with it.
“It’s not worth it,” she said, as she takes her final hit.
By ANDREA ASUAJE
July 29, 2010
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Synthetic drug attracting teens