Three weeks after its introduction, the bill to ban fake pot a.k.a. spice, k2, or spike, sits in the judiciary committee. State Senator Kevin Meyer (R) is the main sponsor of Senate Bill 17.
“This bill would classify certain synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as K2 or Spice as a schedule IIA controlled substance,” the sponsor’s statement said.
Spice is essentially a herb treated with various chemicals, then packaged and sold as incense. Spice is available in gas stations, head shops, or over the Internet.
The chemicals present in spice are said to act on the cannabinoid receptors by mimicking the main psychoactive component of marijuana, Tetrahydrocannabionol (THC).
What makes spice a gamble is the unknown combination of chemicals in the product. Spice can have almost no effect to a very unexpected one. The products are also incredibly varied: brand names aren’t popular in head shops, and tracing the manufacture can be difficult.
UAA Professor of Psychology John Petraitis echoed the hesitancy over spice’s unknown effects.
“One concern I’ve heard on NPR was that because spice and other synthetic substances like it are not regulated by the FDA, the quality and potency is inconsistent, creating a situation where someone could get a particularly strong dose that might trigger an adverse reaction. Let the buyer beware.”
Nation-wide concern over the drug largely began in the middle of last year. Concern over spice hit Anchorage in October; several articles about the subject were published that month. The Anchorage Assembly soon took action. They unanimously voted to ban spice; since Jan. 6 2011, spice is illegal in Anchorage. SB 17 would prohibit spice throughout the state.
“This new drug is dangerous, cheap and legally available. Sold in smoke shops and gas stations as incense, it is marketed to people who are interested in herbal alternatives to cannabis. Synthetic cannabinoids are inexpensive, accessible and undetectable in drug tests. Here in Alaska, the drug enjoys some popularity amongst North Slope workers, U.S. Military members and students,” Meyer’s statement said.
So far, the bill has experienced little opposition. For many community members, the fact that spice has an undisclosed amount and kind of chemicals is enough to avoid it.
“Just don’t smoke it, I’ve heard terrible things,” UAA Alumni Guy Sines, said.
Not everyone believes that the problem is pervasive enough to warrant a ban. The number of high school students using marijuana remains drastically higher than the number of students using spice.
“You could probably count the number of cases on one hand,” school district spokeswoman Heidi Embley said.
UAA student Nika Snell believes that banning spice is an illogical power play.
“If the government makes any money off a drug, they’re no better than the drug dealers they put in prison. So instead of ruining their image by monopolizing on these drugs they’re just going to ban it,” Snell said.
Snell had read of the possible side-effects of spice, but is skeptic over how wide spread the problem is. She noted that the same case studies were cited in various articles. In October, the Anchorage Daily News ran an article that cited two young men that had bizarre reactions to spice. The same two cases were later cited in a February article in the Juneau Empire.
“Who gives the government power to ban only certain drugs? They allow tobacco and alcohol, why do they get to say that these particular drugs are illegal? I don’t see how people can believe the government’s claim that it’s harmful when the government already allows certain harmful substances to reach the public,” Snell said.
UAA students have not brought concerns to UAA Health Services, according to Betty Bang, a nurse Practitioner at UAA.
Nonetheless, students are advised not to use spice because of the undisclosed substances in the mix. Bang said that the American Association of Poison Control and various emergency rooms have reported of patients having adverse reactions to spice.
Bang believes that the drug should be banned, because of the possible harmful effects and because spice often markets itself as safe incense, while simultaneously suggesting that it should be smoked.