Educators, Police Warn of Dangers Associated with Spice
The legal synthetic marijuana Spice is sold at several local gas stations and party stores in White Lake. While you must be 18 to buy, police and school officials say it's becoming an issue amongst high school students of all ages.
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.
Spice was the topic of a recent Ask the Chief on White Lake Patch. Resident Kathy Vitullo wrote in, asking White Lake Police Chief Edward Harris what Spice was, what the effects are of this product that is smoked in a similar manner to marijuana.
According to Harris, Spice is is a form of synthetic marijuana that is sold as incense. It was originally sold under the name K2, but K2 was banned when legislation was passed in October of 2010. Harris said 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.
"This type of synthetic marijuana is extremely dangerous," Harris said. "There has been movement to introduce new legislation to ban all forms of this substance, however it is still pending. I would strongly recommend everyone contact their respective state representatives and senators to urge the passage of such legislation."
Currently, anyone 18 or older can purchase Spice.
Spice in schools
"We are fully aware of Spice, and have had quite a few instances, maybe 5-10, of students in possession," Lakeland Principal Paul Gmelin said. "Spice is dangerous and a problem not only in schools but also the entire community."
It is currently against district and school policy for students, even those who can legally buy it, to have the product on school property.
The code of conduct states, "Students are not to be in possession of ... illegal drugs including counterfeits or look-a-likes in school. The selling, supplying, delivering, arranging for the sale of, possession of amounts for sale, sharing or distribution of drug paraphernalia ... or look-a-like substances that are misrepresented as drugs is prohibited."
Students caught with possession of Spice are subject to suspension, administrative intervention or expulsion, depending on the circumstances.
Gmelin said when it comes to combating Spice in the schools and community, education is the key.
"My social worker is sharing information with parents and working with students individually and in groups to educate them about the dangers of the drug," he said. "The frustrating part at this time is that it's legal for persons over 18, and it's easy to obtain if you are underage. We also send information out frequently on our list serv, and my police liaison has contacted local businesses who reportedly are selling Spice to our kids."
Milford High School Principal Kevin McKenna agrees with Gmelin, "We have had to deal with 4-5 cases this year and recognize some of our students are using or have used spice," he said. "We continually speak to various groups about the use of drugs and identify the issues with 'legal' drugs."
Members of the Lakeland Parent Council said they were shocked to see how openly available Spice was to students at local retailers, and shocked to learn that several underage kids have been able to purchase the product or receive it in some way.
"I really think we need to get the word out about Spice, and educate other parents and our students about the dangers of this drug," Denise Pistana, parent council member, said. "I think it's very important that we let people know about Spice and how easy it is for our kids to get. It might be legal but that doesn't mean it's safe."
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.
Spice is currently sold at several gas stations in White Lake, but not every retailer puts the product on display. Some stores opt to keep Spice behind the counter, something School Liaison Police Officer Jon Kirken said he hopes other stores will do.
"It's a legal drug, it can be sold and displayed just like tobacco or alcohol," he said. "While I don't like the fact that these businesses are selling it, I would encourage them to keep it behind their counters and sell it only when asked to get it, similar to cigarettes."
In some stores, massive displays are set up Kirken said.
"I've talked to a few of the stores," he said. "I asked why they keep selling it to kids if they know it's dangerous, one manager said they make $700-$800 a day selling Spice. I don't know how accurate that figure is for every retailer in White Lake, but it shows just how popular Spice is in the community."
Kirken said it's hard for the police to do anything about the situation because the drug is legal. However, Kirken, like Chief Harris, recommends parents talk to their legislators to get the drug banned all together.
"Even if we were to get rid of it in White Lake, it'd still be available in other places and the kids would get it," he said. "Parents need to pay attention to their kids and talk to them about the dangers of Spice. Education and communication can go a long way."