Beware of the Spice of death — After teen dies, cops warn about legal ‘synthetic marijuana’
Far from the being the spice of life, a product called “Spice” and described as synthetic marijuana is one that can have disastrous results when smoked.
Such was the case March 4 when McIntosh High School student Chase Burnett, 16, was found drowned in the hot tub at his home near Peachtree City after having used the so-far legal product.
But what is Spice and how is it that such a product can be legally purchased?
Fayetteville Police Detective Scott Israel said the product referred to as Spice was originally formulated in the 1990s to help people detox from marijuana.
“It was a chemical that was put on a smoking product that mimics the action of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana),” Israel said. “It did not hit the market because of the harmful effects.”
The substance contained a different chemical compound that in 2003 was sold as “K-2.” A couple of the chemical compounds in the substance were altered in subsequent years and branded as “K-4,” Israel said. But regardless of the name, the variations of what is now called Spice or synthetic marijuana also carries the notice on the label that the product is not for human consumption, Israel said, meaning that there is no prohibition against a 14-year-old purchasing the product.
Sold today as “incense” due to being laced with a fruity-smelling chemical, the short-term side effects of the leafy or sometimes fibrous chemically-laden substance when smoked includes a marijuana “high” along with conditions in some people such as accelerated heart rates, agitation, hallucinations, vomiting, nausea, elevated blood pressure or seizures, according to addictionblog.org.
Spice is marketed as brands such as K4, Mr. Miyagi, Warpaint, K4 Gold, Phoenix or Buddha and is sold in foil packets or other containers ranging from $18-25. Israel said he knows of only two convenience stores in Fayette County that formerly sold the substance off the shelf and that was several months ago. Those stores selling the product today are likely keeping it behind the counter due to its increasingly negative publicity, Israel said.
Israel said the chemical concoction is being sprayed on leafy substances, but not on tobacco products.
“That’s how they get around the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) because it’s not tobacco and it’s not ingested,” said Israel.
Israel said Fayetteville has seen a couple of cases related to the apparent use of Spice. One of those came from a parent who alerted officers that her daughter was using the drug, Israel said. Another incident involved a male who “put his hand through a mirror when he saw his reflection,” Israel said. Such responses can be due to hallucinations that can occur with some people after smoking Spice, Israel added.
Israel explained that, as yet, he does not know of any hospitalizations that have been required of city residents due to the use of Spice, adding that the effects of the substance are manifested with different people in different ways. Then there are other cases, such as that of 16-year-old Fayette County resident and McIntosh High School honor student Chase Burnett whose body was found last week in the hot tub at his home.
Chase’s father David Burnett in an interview published on YouTube said his son experimented with the synthetic marijuana product that he had purchased at a local convenience store. Burnett said his son apparently drowned after smoking the product, adding that he made a mistake and unfortunately paid the ultimate price.
“Chase was a great, great kid and a phenomenal son,” Burnett said.
And it is the reality that the product can be purchased legally that has some parents and law enforcement officials concerned.
“The problem that we have with Spice is that it is not illegal,” Israel noted. “On the street it’s called legal marijuana because it won’t show up on drug tests.”
The substance is legally sold in places such as convenience stores, the place where David Burnett said his son bought the Spice that he later smoked.
Spice is a substance that can reportedly be altered with the substitution of one or more different chemicals that presumably make it a “different” substance and thus made more difficult to regulate. But its days are numbered if David Burnett and others have their way. The family, and doubtless many in law enforcement, want to see a law passed by the Georgia General Assembly to ban the project from store shelves.
Israel said there is a federal move to ban all types of products such as Spice. That proposed legislation has been under review in Congress for more than a year.
“Something’s got to be done with synthetic marijuana. Then his life would not have been in vain,” David Burnett said of his son.