News24

'Synthetic' marijuana a problem for US military

2011-12-31 09:20

San Diego - U.S. troops are increasingly using an easy-to-get herbal mix called "Spice," which mimics a marijuana high, is hard to detect and can bring on hallucinations that last for days.

The abuse of the drug has so alarmed military officials that they've launched an aggressive testing program that this year has led to the investigation of more than 1 100 suspected users, according to military figures.

Potty

So-called "synthetic" pot is readily available on the Internet and has become popular nationwide in recent years, but its use among troops and sailors has raised concerns among the Pentagon brass.

"You can just imagine the work that we do in a military environment," said Mark Ridley, deputy director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, adding, "you need to be in your right mind when you do a job. That's why the Navy has always taken a zero tolerance policy toward drugs."

Two years ago, only 29 Marines and sailors were investigated for Spice. This year, the number topped 700, the investigative service said. Those found guilty of using Spice are kicked out, although the Navy does not track the overall number of dismissals.

The Air Force has punished 497 airmen so far this year, compared to last year's 380, according to figures provided by the Pentagon. The Army does not track Spice investigations but says it has medically treated 119 soldiers for the synthetic drug in total.

Military officials emphasize those caught represent a tiny fraction of all service members and note none was in a leadership position or believed high while on duty.

New Spice

Spice is made up of exotic plants from Asia like Blue Lotus and Bay Bean. Their leaves are coated with chemicals that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, but are five to 200 times more potent.

More than 40 states have banned some of its chemicals, prompting sellers to turn to the Internet, where it is marketed as incense or potpourri. In some states, Spice is sold at bars, smoke shops and convenience stores. The packets usually say the ingredients are not for human consumption but also tout them as "mood enhancing."

Service members preferred it because up until this year there was no way to detect it with urine tests. A test was developed after the Drug Enforcement Administration put a one-year emergency ban on five chemicals found in the drug.

Manufacturers are adapting to avoid detection, even on the new tests, and skirt new laws banning the main chemicals.

"It's a moving target," said Capt. J.A. "Cappy" Surette, spokesman for the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

The military can calibrate its equipment to test for those five banned chemicals "but underground chemists can keep altering the properties and make up to more than 100 permutations," Surette said.

Potent

Complicating their efforts further, there are more than 200 other chemicals used in the drug. They remain legal and their effects on the mind and body remain largely unknown, Navy doctors say.

A Clemson University team created many of the chemicals for research purposes in 1990s. They were never tested on humans.

Civilian deaths have been reported and emergency crews have responded to calls of "hyper-excited" people doing things like tearing off their clothes and running down the street naked.

Navy investigators compare the drug to angel dust because no two batches are the same. Some may just feel a euphoric buzz, but others have suffered delusions lasting up to a week.

While the problem has surfaced in all branches of the military, the Navy has been the most aggressive in drawing attention to the problem.

It produced a video based on cases to warn sailors of the drug's dangers and publicized busts of crew members on some of its most-storied ships, including the USS Carl Vinson, from which Osama bin Laden's was dropped into the sea.

Two of the largest busts this year involved sailors in the San Diego-based U.S. Third Fleet, which announced last month that it planned to dismiss 28 sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

A month earlier, 64 sailors, including 49 from the Vinson, were accused of being involved in a Spice ring.

Many of the cases were discovered after one person was caught with the drug, prompting broader investigations.

Comments
  • Squeegee - 2011-12-31 09:34

    So this is what Malema is on...

  • Ian - 2011-12-31 10:15

    The high described in the article is nothing like a marijuana high at all. The effects of this drug are also nothing like the effects of weed. Weed is natural and doesn't make you delusional or hallucinate. This drug sounds like a nightmare.

      Squeegee - 2011-12-31 11:26

      Well aquained with weed I presume?

      Donovan - 2012-01-01 07:36

      As a matter of fact, this stuff was readily available in NZ until recently (or it may still be, I'm not really into that sort of thing). However, being the curious sort, I smoked some, called Kronic (ha ha, yes I know - but that's the brand name!). I got so totally stoned on less than half a 'rollie' that I was convinced it should be illegal. FAR more hectic than regular weed - and you could just buy it over the counter at the tobacconist or corner shop. They banned it now, but with these sorts of things, all the suppliers need to is manipulate the molecule and it's no longer illegal. But on the topic of legality and absurdity: you can still buy cigarettes freely and even though we all know it's carcinogenic and SUPER addictive....

  • Shirley - 2011-12-31 10:35

    Whoonga,spice-what next!Unfortunately you slow down the use of one and someone cooks up an entirely new one which is even more dangerous!

  • Malcolm - 2011-12-31 12:19

    In addition to the many societal costs of prohibition, it has a long history of driving the spread of harder or more dangerous drugs. * Poppies to morphine to heroine to krokodil * Coca to cocaine to crack * Ephedra to ephredrine to speed to methamphetamine * Marijuana to skunk to dangerous synthetic concoctions such as 'spice' or 'bath salts' * Mushrooms to ecstasy to 2CB/designers At every step the reasons for the rise in popularity of the new form of the drug are one or more of the following: * It may easier to smuggle. * It may be more addictive, thus compelling the buyer to return more frequently. * It may be cheaper to produce therefore yielding more profit. * Like a game of "whack a mole" a shutdown of producers in one area may give rise to business opportunities for another set of producers with a similar product. Prohibition's distortion of the immutable laws of supply and demand subsidizes organized crime, foreign terrorists, corrupt cops & politicians and feeds the prejudices of self-appointed culture warriors. So called Tough-On-Drugs politicians have happily built careers on confusing drug prohibition's horrendous collateral damage with the substances that they claim to be fighting, while the big losers in this battle are everybody else, especially taxpayers. How come so many of us have been deluded into believing that big government is the appropriate response to non-traditional consensual vices?

      Squeegee - 2011-12-31 14:30

      Upset that you cant get them legally, huh?

      Donovan - 2012-01-01 07:38

      Check up on drug legality and the most liberal country in the world. No, not the Netherlands, PORTUGAL. Legalise = reduce criminality and related social problems. People have always wanted to get hammered, making it illegal will do nothing to stop that.

  • dale.a.barker - 2011-12-31 12:44

    I believe Han Solo was smuggling Spice for the Kessel Run

  • ZION - 2012-03-02 11:53

    i AM FORCED TO THANK THE PERSON WHO DELETED MY COMMENT ON THIS FORUM IT WAS NO ELEVEN. (I HAVE CONSULTED THE DUPLICATE ON MY FACEBOOK AND JUST CANNOT FIND JUSTIFICATION AS TO WHY IT WAS DELETED HERE. fURTHER i AM FORCED TO REVISE MY ESTEEMED ATTITUDE TOWARDS SOME OF THE SICKO'S ON THESE FORA. tHIS COMMENT WILL ALSO REFLECT ON MY fACEBOOK AND IT WILL SERVE TOO AS A COMPLAINT TO THE EDITOR. i THINK PEOPLE SHOULD RATHER GET ON WITH THEIR LIVES THAN CARRY ON WITH CHILDISH VENDETTAS I AM HERE TO STAY

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