Organic marijuana is illegal in Carbon County. Synthetic marijuana is not, at least not yet.
This "Frankendope" is marketed as incense and goes by the name Spice, packaged as Silver Spice, Diamond Spice, Yucatan Fire Spice, P.E.P. Spice or Fire 'n' Ice. The product ingredients list has more herbs and spices than Colonel Sanders, but nowhere on the label is there an indication that it can also be laced with a laboratory-made chemical that mimics the effect of ordinary grass but may be anywhere from 66 to 800 times more potent.
"Last week we had a kid arrested who was in pretty bad shape," said Price Police Sgt. Bill Barnes. The youth appeared to be having hallucinations, which is not standard with marijuana. "What we hear so far is that this is a psychotoxin but it is not illegal."
Barnes said he has been told that the potency of synthetic THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana) has a "two-pronged effect." It can produce a high, but it can also cause hallucinations and other side effects. That assessment coincides with with a briefing on the subject by the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
NCIS said that users report "feeling lightheaded, drowsy and happy." However, observers indicate that users seem "paranoid," have trouble keeping their balance and trash their rooms.
The NCIS says that German research has indicated "Spice may have adverse effects on the heart, circulation, and the nervous system, and in some cases could cause panic attacks and is potentially addictive."
"May have" is the key phrase in that quote, though. The same NCIS report also admits that there are no long-term studies of the use of Spice. The stuff is not even detectable in urinalysis. In researching this story, the Sun Advocate found statements from several agencies repeating the "no long-term studies" qualifier and citing a wide range on the potency of HU-210, which is considered the worst of the synthetic pot imitators.
Nevertheless, Spice has been banned in Sweden, Switzerland, South Korea, Chile, Germany and France as of 2009, and is under review in a handful of other countries.
The Navy itself has disciplined sailors or separated them outright under an existing code, which basically prohibits the abuse of any legal substance (glue, cough syrup) with the intent of "stupefaction of the central nervous system."
In Utah, the city of Ogden and Utah county have banned sale and possession of Spice.
Price City has not had any formal meetings or agenda items on the topic, but Price Councilwoman Jeanne McEvoy said several council members have been researching and discussing the matter informally. "We are concerned because it definitely alters the mind," she said.
At the legislature, the Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee has had the synthetic marijuana on its list of items to consider.
There are hypotheses about what makes this latest designer drug potentially hallucinogenic. One is that the synthetics, as mimics of the cannabinoids in marijuana, do not contain any of the anti-psychotic properties of the organic crop. But again, there are no long-term studies to substantiate the conjecture.
Whatever research eventually determines about Spice, it will still remain a single item on a long list of drugs - legal and illegal - that plague society and law enforcement. And those drugs, according to Sgt. Barnes, are getting more powerful.
"Regular marijuana is getting more concentrated," the sergeant said. That is apparently the result of growers selectively breeding plants to satisfy demand. Cocaine, once legal in this country, has also become dangerously potent. And cocaine is being supplanted by methamphetamine, instantly addictive. "Meth is 100 percent drug," Barnes warned.