|(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)
One of the darkest examples of the consequences of cannabis prohibition is the rise in recent years of synthetic marijuana alternatives, such as the all-too-popular brand K2, or “Spice”.
Although these so-called “synthetic cannabinoids”, intended to simulate the effects of real weed, are already banned in many states, and have been the focus of several high-profile DEA raids of late, the creators of the chemical mixtures simply alter their recipes ever so slightly to sidestep law enforcement and prosecution.
The result is an ever-devolving pseudo-chemistry that is beginning to have very detrimental consequences. Since its explosion onto the smoking scene in 2008, tens of thousands of emergency room visits have been attributed to “overdosing” on synthetic weed.
Just over a week ago,Texas alone saw over 40 such cases in a span of only 48 hours.
That sure isn’t a realistic simulation of real weed.
The number of deaths tied to the drug cannot be accurately estimated. For one thing, reliable testing for the drug is just arriving on the medical scene, and it has just as hard a time as law enforcement does with trying to keep up with the manufacturers’ recipe books.
Also stunting the statistics is the fact that many families have chosen to mask the true cause of death of their loved ones once it is learned that something as embarrassing as Spice was the culprit.
Due to that lack of reliable and readily available testing for the drug, Spice quickly became an alternative smoking option for those who could not smoke weed, which can be tested for. Parolees, high school student-athletes, even cops and military service members were soon hooked on what seemed to be a “legal high”.
Instantly recognizing the risk it posed to their ranks, the various branches of the U.S. Armed forces began to ban the possession, use, or sale of the substance in 2010. Captain Chris Miller, the head detective at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, knew they had a problem in 2010 when he said, “It’s bordering on epidemic use in the military from the interviews we’ve done.”
In fact, over 2,000 service members were dismissed from duty in 2010 and 2011 for failing to follow the new rules about the banned substance.
It should have come as no surprise, then, when a University of Washington study released last week showed that among active duty Army personnel who admit to using illicit drugs, twice as many of them use synthetic marijuana as opposed to the real thing.
Considering that real documented cases involving Spice leading to lung transplants, heart attacks, and suicides are turning up in small town newspapers across the country, military officials should be very concerned about the UW study.
Of those who anonymously participated in the study, roughly 1/3rd admitted to using at least one illicit drug in the previous 90 days. Of that group, 38% admitted to using some form of Spice in that same time period. Less than half that number admitted pot use.
Many participants told the researchers that they felt that Spice was more prevalent among service members than it was among civilians – no other drug received such feedback.
Denise Walker was the lead author of the study, and she offered a built-in excuse for the soldiers’ responses, saying, “They live very stressful lives. Most of them are young, and they may be going to war or coming back from war. Being in the Army is very demanding.”
She fails to mention the overruling fact that even if these soldiers did want help with their addictions, military protocol demands that any such request go on the soldier’s permanent record. So they continue to stay quiet, and seek alternative – and increasingly dangerous – methods of getting their fix.