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Doctor warns of unpredictable ingredients in Spice that can cause bad trips

Thursday, August 7, 2014 - 6:48 am

If your idea of fun is having a full-blown psychotic episode, complete with hallucinations, paranoia and extreme anxiety, the synthetic marijuana currently circulating, called Spice, ought to be a blast.

Fort Wayne Police are warning that a tainted supply of Spice in this area is causing people who ingest it to display psychotic behavior that requires immediate hospitalization.

Dr. Christian Bridgwater, an emergency room doctor at Parkview Hospital, said he saw a case come through last week with the exact symptoms described above. Those who have a psychotic episode triggered by tainted Spice can be delusional, combative, violent or suicidal.

Bridgwater said the problem is that the chemists keep changing the chemical compositions of synthetic marijuana. "When that happens you don't know the effects," he said.

Earlier this summer a bad batch of Spice sent 28 people to the hospital in Gainesville, Fla., with seizures, according to reports out of Florida.

Bridgwater said if a user was alone and went into a seizure the person could die without medical intervention.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Spice refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce a high similar to marijuana. It's also called K2, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, and other names and labeled "not for human consumption." These products contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for their mind-altering effects. They often are sold in gas stations or head shops and look like potpourri. Synthetic marijuana also is sometimes sold as bath salts or incense.

Spice, "K2" and other forms of imitation marijuana, along with synthetic stimulants sold as "bath salts," became illegal in Indiana in 2012. Fort Wayne and Allen County have had bans on synthetic drugs since 2010.

Labels on Spice products often claim that they contain "natural" psycho-active material taken from plants, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Spice products do contain dried plant material, but chemical analyses show that their active ingredients are synthetic cannabinoid compounds. But users just think they're getting a cheap, marijuana-like high. And the chemicals used in Spice are not easily detected in standard drug tests.

Because the chemicals used in Spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration has designated the five active chemicals most frequently found in Spice as Schedule I controlled substances, making it illegal to sell, buy, or possess them. However Spice manufacturers try to evade these legal restrictions by substituting different chemicals in their mixtures, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The frequent evolution of the Spice composition leads to unpredictable outcomes, Bridgwater said.

Although much is known about the long-term effects of marijuana, it's too early to tell the long-term effects of Spice, Bridgwater said. Those who show up at the ER having a bad reaction to Spice are generally treated for symptom control, he said. It can take 24 to 48 hours for the substance to leave the body. Sometimes the patient is released from the hospital to a behavioral health facility.

Spice is billed as an alternative to marijuana; users probably expect a nice, mellow high, not a psychotic episode. Bridgwater encouraged people to get the word out to friends that Spice is a dangerous drug. "It's far more dangerous than marijuana," he said.