Spice, an herb that mimics marijuana, has caused a rash of emergency room visits and ambulance calls in Valdez recently, prompting Fire Chief George Keeney to issue a warning to drug users.
“NOTE: We are seeing a run of patients that have hearts racing and chest pain after smoking the new version of weed in our community,” reads the warning which was including in the weekly press release issued by the fire department. “ IF you have a problem with your heart already it might be advisable to not buy the new weed. It could kill you…….”
“It’s actually an herb called spice,” said Valdez Police Chief Bill Comer, “It’s the same thing as smoking nutmeg,” he said, “It can have terrible, horrendous consequences.”
EMTs were called out twice last week to render aid to people who had called asking for medical treatment after smoking the substance, a legal herb often sold as a cheaper substitute for marijuana. Also known as K2, the herb can cause tachycardia – an abnormally fast heartbeat – and chest pains that mimic heart attacks.
“It’s scarring them because they are calling us,” Keeney said in a telephonic interview Monday morning, “It’s cranking people up.”
Valdez Police noted on Sept. 12 they were called to perform a welfare check on an individual who had sought medical care at Providence Medical Center after taking spice. The person, who the hospital reported as “disoriented,” could not be located by police.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, Spice first appeared on the American market in the spring of 2009. It is a legal herb, often sold as incense or potpourri, that is “laced with various synthetic cannabinoids or synthetic cannabinoid mimicking compounds...”
And it is perfectly legal to own and use in any quantity.
“There’s a hundred names for it and it’s cheap,” said one former user who agreed to share knowledge of the substance if we agreed to not reveal their identity. “You smoke it like you would weed.”
While it is legal in Alaska to possess small amounts of marijuana in the privacy of your home, it is still illegal to buy, sell or possess outside the home. And the penalties for selling marijuana are stiff.
“Nobody wants to get caught dealing for small amounts,” our source said, “That’s why people go to spice.”
Another perceived benefit for users is the fact the drug was, until recently, undetectable in a standard drug test. While the DEA reports a test has been developed to detect the substance in the human body, it is expensive to administer and results of testing take a long time obtain.
The DEA also says the drug can be dangerous to users due to the fact it is an unregulated substance and the amount of cannabinoids in batches can vary. This means the user has no way to know how potent the substance is. Nausea and vomiting are also reported side effects of use.
Many county governments in the Lower 48 have banned the sale and use of spice, where is it available in smoke shops in prepackaged bags and sold under brand names such as Spice Gold, Genie, K2 and Yucatan Fire. Idaho and Florida are considering statewide bans.
“I hope they watch what they’re doing,” Keeney said, referring to both the dealers and users of spice. It’s one thing to treat a user with a racing heartbeat. No heartbeat at all is a bad trip for everyone.
By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star