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‘Spice’ no safe marijuana alternative

The mix of herbs known as spice produces a high comparable to marijuana but is marketed legally as incense. K2 is a brand under which spice is sold. (Photo by the Drug Enforcement Administration)

The mix of herbs known as spice produces a high comparable to marijuana but is marketed legally as incense. K2 is a brand under which spice is sold. (Photo by the Drug Enforcement Administration)

A drug rehabilitation counselor recently told me a story about a male high school student living a typical American teenager’s life, which included some experimentation with illicit practices.

Unfortunately, one of those experimentations included smoking Spice, a legal product sold as incense that allegedly produces a marijuana-like effect when inhaled.

Becky Kartagener, a therapist and social worker, said that for at least three months, the boy had been using Spice and huffing unknown aerosol substances to get high. Such behavior landed him in a wheelchair in a rehab center. He was unable to communicate with others or perform even the most basic life functions.

While cases as extreme as that are rare, as a high school administrator, I have encountered an increasing number of students under the influence of Spice, characterized by glassy eyes and barely comprehensible speech. One student told me that there was “nothing that anyone could do to him,” since he had been smoking “something legal.”

Although it is technically legal to sell, that doesn’t make it safe. This supposed “legal alternative to marijuana” needs to be outlawed as soon as possible.

Spice contains synthetic compounds that mimic the effects of marijuana, and its presence may not show up on drug tests, making it attractive to users submitting to drug screenings. Spice and “K2,” another brand name for the substance, employ synthetic chemicals similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that induces a sense of euphoria.

The toxic substance is widely available in smoke shops and liquor stores, as well as in wide supply on the Internet, advertised as “state legal.” Along with that description, companies promoting Spice should add “unsafe” and “potentially lethal” on the packaging.

This dangerous product has even gotten the attention of state lawmakers.

“This is not marijuana. This is something far more dangerous,” Rep. Matt Heinz, a Tucson Democrat, told me recently. Heinz, who is also a physician at Tucson Medical Center, is working with more than a dozen state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to outlaw Spice and similar products in Arizona. “We need to give law enforcement the tools needed to remove these things from the shelves,” Heinz said.

Unless these products are dealt with in the legal realm, they will continue to provide a false sense of security to users interested in a “safe” and untouchable high.

“The effects of Spice and K2 are so unpredictable, and very dangerous,” said Joranda Montano, with Community Bridges, an East Valley-based substance-abuse treatment and prevention agency, and a member of a task force working to outlaw such substances.

The legality of Spice and related substances adds a new and dangerous element to drug-abuse prevention in schools and on the streets. School districts across the state have been scrambling to amend their policies, to keep Spice off their campuses.

The young man mentioned above is still alive and showing progress. He is out of the wheelchair, but he still cannot go to the bathroom by himself, and he does not speak in full sentences. The combination of his intoxicants, including Spice, took away his ability to manage even those simple acts.

Spice needs to be legally named the toxic substance that it actually is and outlawed to keep it from destroying any more students’ lives.

— David Miller is an assistant principal at Desert Hills High School in Gilbert. He also occasionally contributes to the Arizona Capitol Times.


  1. I have heard that this substance is “dealt” in county jails, and I heard it from people who had spent time there. They were offered the opportunity to purchase it several times daily. It does not show up on a traditional drug screen, so there are regularly people in custody who are lit brighter than than the Las Vegas Strip. Spray whipped cream cans have to mention the danger of inhaling the propellant. Since this stuff is legally bought and sold, and used for getting high, it should hold the same warnings as any other substance that has been misused for this purpose.

  2. People would smoke dog **** if someone told them it would get them \high\. Those old enough probably remember, \mellow yellow\. Smoking banana leaves, which did absolutely nothing. As long as the world has low life’s, intent on making a living off the misery of others, we’ll have drugs. The only thing that will ever slow the flow of drugs, are punishment’s so crippling, that the risk is no longer worth taking.

  3. Okay I’m sorry but in no way shape or form was this ever sold as a “safe” alternative to marijuana. DRUGS ARE NOT SAFE! EVEN PRESCRIPTION DRUGS!!! If you are dumb enough to think that smoking something is not going to harm you, then maybe you’re doing the world a favor by killing yourself slowly. Idiots.

  4. Just like people to pin point spice as the cause even though it plainly points out he used other inhalants. Hmm could it have been the paint or air fresher her was huffing that messed him so bad? I’d say it was and had nothing to do with the spice. This is just another state and goverment ploy to make something illegal that they can’t make a killing off of. Unlike booze and pills that are all over the place. Deal with the real problems like those and stop being so petty.

  5. No not According to the University of NC

  6. This article, while well intentioned, is 100% anecdotal and proves NOTHING about spice. In fact, it’s far more likely that he fried his brain huffing chemicals from aerosols in which case we’re just talking about an ancient problem that, given the absence of calls to outlaw paint thinner and glue, isn’t going to get addressed any time soon.

    Oh, I’m totally high on spice right now while at work as a computer programmer. Don’t you just like my barely intelligible comment or that people who do recreational drugs have careers?

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