Spice up your life: A Nationwide Hysteria?

You’ve probably seen the photos – people zonked off on Spice in zombified states, slumped on benches all over the News. More importantly, your parents have seen it – and they’re asking questions.

An 11 year-old boy was hospitalised in May, after a cigarette he was given was spiked with Spice. His mother gave a description of his unusual behaviour, “He was like a zombie. A monster had taken over his body and he had so much strength it was unreal.”

This caused a flurry of headlines and nationwide panic. But is this all hysteria caused by media sensationalism, or is Spice actually dangerous?

Spice refers to a range of synthetic cannabinoids, compounds produced to mimic the effects of the psychoactive ingredient present in cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. These compounds were first identified in clinical research into the endocannabinoid system of the brain, an important neurochemical pathway in mediating mood. Drug producers repurposed this scientific literature to recreate these compounds to sell for recreational use, much to the chagrin of neuroscientists. The drug is favoured by users due to its inexpensive and easy-to-procure nature. It is also relatively inconspicuous, lacking the signature scent of cannabis and is much more difficult to detect in blood and urine than marijuana.

Dr. Michael Baumann, pharmacologist at the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, stated “we have a lot of clinical observational studies now from cases that have come into emergency departments showing synthetic cannabinoids have a much greater propensity to cause adverse effects than THC. The adverse effects include vomiting, hypertension, hallucinations, psychotic episodes, seizures, coma, and there’s even been deaths. However, the biological effects of most of these chemicals have not been studied in humans or animals, so we don’t know their effects on the body. There’s no quality control in the preparation and packaging of the products, so overall, I would say they’re definitely not safe.”

The main problem with Spice is that, chemically speaking, nobody really knows what Spice is.

The main problem with Spice is that, chemically speaking, nobody really knows what Spice is. Hundreds of different synthetic psychoactive ingredients are mass-produced overseas and imported to the UK where they are dissolved and absorbed into dried plant matter. Spice has been illegal to sell for human consumption in the UK since the introduction of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, but continues to be sold under the guise of potpourri or incense.

Perhaps one of Spice’s most dangerous aspects is that, while other constituents occurring in the cannabis plant, such as cannabidiol, actually help to counteract the negative effects of THC, these constituents are absent in synthetic cannabinoids. Also, due to the fact these drugs are not approved for human consumption, the lack of government regulation means they can contain a myriad of dangerous chemicals, such as opioids, heavy metals, mould, and rat poison.

Although it is likely the images appearing in the tabloids are portrayed as worse than they actually are, potential users should still be wary. The effects of Spice are under-researched, partly due to the inconsistent and constantly changing nature of the drug as government regulation becomes stricter and stricter.

One thing is certain; from the munchies to overwhelming anxiety, you really don’t know you’re getting.

By Olivia Maskill

image source: sober-services.com