Synthetic drug use is a growing problem, and it's making poison control centers and emergency rooms nationwide even busier.  As a result, more and more states are joining the anti-synthetic drug bandwagon and pulling Bath Salts and Synthetic Marijuana (Spice, K2, and Incense) off the shelf, but it's still out there.  Additionally, on a federal level, the Senate is working to pass House Resolution 1254, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011.  This proposed law would federally criminalize the possession, distribution, and manufacturing of synthetic cannabis (i.e., Spice/Incense) and synthetic stimulants (i.e., Bath Salts and Plant Food). The measure has already passed the House, and is up for the Senate's vote before making its way to President Obama to sign it into law. It's great that we're moving to pull this stuff off the shelf, but as I found in my search, it's still out there and really easy to get your hands on.

Before writing this blog, I decided to see just how easy it was to locate synthetic drugs. So I took off on what I thought could be an adventure... I tried to think of a store that sold drug-related items, and, living at the beach, that didn't take too long. Yes, parents, check the shelves at the beach stores when you're on your next family vacation. You may be surprised at what you find. In the background, Reggae music blasted and Bob Marley t-shirts served as wall decor (clue number one). Clue number two came in a display case with an attractive array of blown glass in the form of mushrooms and beautiful vases. Yeah right! We're talking water bongs, glass pipes, one hitters, you name it, all right before my eyes. As I approached the counter, I saw rolling papers lined across a shelf like chewing gum in a convenience store.

I scanned the store and noticed most of the customers were middle age with their teens just checking out a cool beach store. As they were checking out the beach apparel and cool surf jewelry, I wondered, "Do they see what I'm seeing? I bet their teen does..." You see, to the average person, this drug stuff blends in and is camouflaged with all of the other brightly colored stuff, so it's easy to overlook. But a teen or young person can spot it quickly.

Jackpot - Picture of my findings.

When I made my way to the attendant at the register, I thought, "how do I ask for this stuff?" That thought quickly faded because right in front of my very eyes, hanging in packets on the wall, were 4-5 rows of incense (and we're not talking potpourri!) I came face to face with a packet of Scooby Doo Incense.  "Jinkies!"  Incense comes in a variety of scents from blueberry to  "buzzz cherry" and the purpose of these fruity blends has nothing to do with making the room more fragrant. Signs with eighteen and slashes hung on both sides of the display with the words "Incense" and "Not for Human Consumption." "Jackpot!!!" Within 5 minutes of beginning my search it was over...not quite the "adventure" I had planned.

 "May I help you?" a young sales clerk asked. "Yeah, can I see a few packets of that?" I asked pointing to the colorful array of tea bag-like packets. "Incense?" she asked? "Is that what you call them?" She smiled "well...some people smoke it, but we don't recommend that..." I asked if they sold bath salts and the attendant mentioned that they had to pull those off the shelf about a year ago. As I referenced in a previous blog, many states have banned the sale of bath salts, and I happen to live in one. If I lived in a state that hadn't banned them, I would have easily had my hands on a bath salts packet. Check out my previous blog to learn more about bath salts. Since I ran across "Spice" let's turn our attention to what it is.

What is Incense or Spice?

Simply put, "Spice" is synthetic cannabis or fake marijuana. It has steadily increased in popularity among teens and young adults. Spice is a popular option for teens because it doesn't show up in drug tests like pot. However, it is very dangerous because it is dried plant sprayed with synthetic cannabinoid powders. Spice is marketed as "incense," but as I found in my search also marketed as "not for human consumption" which makes it easy to get, cheap and legal. About a year ago, the DEA identified several chemical compounds found in spice blends as "drugs and chemicals of concern" and initiated a nationwide ban of these chemicals. Unfortunately, it's still out there and until the feds pull it off the shelf, teens are still getting their hands on it.

What are some of the side effects of smoking Incense (Spice)?

  • accelerated heart rate
  • feeling of euphoria
  • increased blood pressure
  • bloodshot eyes
  • numbness and tingling
  • anxiety/paranoia
  • panic attacks
  • vomiting
  • severe hallucinations
  • tremors/seizures
  • Agitation (which can be severe and require sedation)

What are some of the warning signs that may indicate the use of Fake Weed (Spice)?

  • If your teen is using Visine to clear those red or bloodshot eyes, watch out.
  • If your teen's pupils are dilated, start asking questions.
  • If your teen appears glassy eyed or is walking around in a staggering daze then something is up.
  • If you find bongs, pipes, and/or smoking papers, then I'd say that's a dead giveaway.
  • If your teen is coughing up a lung like a smoker, only he doesn't smoke, then that's a tell tale sign you need to investigate.
  • If your house smells like potpourri all the time because your teen is burning something, make sure she's not puffing it too. (Synthetic cannabis can have a berry or minty scent.)
  • If the UPS truck is dropping off special packages to your teen. In fact, you can often find the best deals online.

With new drugs constantly popping up, it's important that parents stay in the know about them. Many of these drugs can have life-altering and tragic effects on the users. If you suspect your teen is using recreational drugs, please get help immediately.

Unfortunately, for now, incense remains legal in many states and countries and can be purchased by anyone over the age of 18. When I began my research I was appalled at how easy not only is it to get your hands on the stuff, but also what's on the internet. Did you know that teens who want best bang for their buck can visit a blog called, "Spice University" and get a review on the best herbal incenses? Parents, this is scary stuff... please take time to speak with your teen about the dangers associated with fake weed (Spice) and bath salts.

Helpful Resources

1. American Council for Drug Education

2. Treatment Center

A nationwide directory of treatment centers that
specialize in the treatment of alcoholism, addiction, eating disorders, and
drug problems.  Treatment

3. The Partnership at

4. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

5. To the Maximus Foundation

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