It's a question many parents, school officials and police officers are asking, what can be done about Spice?
The answer? Not much, except educate parents and students about the dangers of this legal, synthetic marijuana.
Recently, Spice was a topic at a town hall meeting to address youth marijuana use. This product that is smoked in a similar manner to marijuana is also raising concerns among local community anti-drug coalitions and law enforcement
Spice is a form of synthetic marijuana that is commonly sold as incense, or potpourri, according to Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham. It was originally sold under the name K2, but K2 was banned when legislation was passed in October of 2010. Since the ban, manufacturers are finding ways around the legislation by manufacturing variations of the banned substance, eliminating the chemicals that caused the original K2 to be banned.
"They’re coming up with ways of trying to induce illegal drugs into the community legally," Wickersham said. "It's mind altering, (but) kids are using it. They think it won't be detected."
While Wickersham said the use of Spice is by no means an "epidemic" among Macomb teens, it is something he would like to see taken off store shelves.
"It’s a legislation thing," he said. "At some point, someone would have to say, 'This type of spice is illegal to sell and we want it out of the stores.'"
Currently, anyone 18 or older can purchase Spice.
Spice in schools
"We conducted focus groups with students two weeks ago, (and) one of questions asked was, 'Are you aware of students using K2, or Spice,' and they were aware. They absolutely said that students are using," said Charlene McGunn, executive director of the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth & Families.
It is currently against the policies of all four public school districts serving Macomb Township for students, even those who can legally buy it, to have the product on school property.
The Chippewa Valley code of conduct states: "The school has a 'Drug Free' zone that extends 1000 feet beyond the school boundaries as well as to any school activity and transportation. This means that any activity, possession, sale, distribution, or use of drugs, alcohol, fake drugs, steroids, inhalants, or look-alike drugs is prohibited."
Students caught with possession of Spice are subject to suspension, expulsion or contact with law enforcement, depending on the circumstances.
McGunn said when it comes to combating Spice in the schools and community, education is the key.
"It's an emerging drug trend. We’re really trying to educate the community. We've put out a fact sheet and disseminated it through the schools. We've provided information in different ways through our meetings. There's much education that needs to be done."
A key issue is the availability of Spice. Because it is available to those over age 18, "kids think it’s safe," McGunn said.
"What’s very sad is that it is being sold in local stores," she added. "There is a need, as a member of the community, to educate yourself and if you find it on the shelf in a local store to talk with the manager of that store and indicate your concern that it is being made accessible to kids."
According to a recent article in The Journal of School Safety, one in nine high school seniors has used synthetic marijuana in the past year.
The article states that the use of Spice is now the second most frequently used drug among high school seniors, second only to marijuana.
The Drug Enforcement Administration states that smoking spice gives a person psychological effects similar to those of marijuana, including paranoia, panic attacks and giddiness. It also can cause increase heart rates and blood pressure. Because the manufacturing of Spice is not regulated, the DEA states the combination or herbs and chemicals used can be potentially dangerous, and smoking the drug can cause serious reactions including nausea and, in at least one reported case, brain swelling.
Where Spice is sold, it is not always put on display. Some stores opt to keep Spice behind the counter, while others use massive displays.
It is difficult for the police to do anything about Spice because the drug is legal. However, McGunn said the most effective way of eliminating the use of Spice and other drugs will always be the conversation between parents and children.
"The most powerful thing any adult can do is provide information to youth and educate themselves," McGunn said.