The Problem of Dealing with Synthetic Drugs

We got an anonymous letter the other day tipping us off that a local store was possibly selling synthetic drugs like K2 or Spice and tobacco products to underaged people (you have to be 18).  Because the letter is anonymous, we don’t have any way of letting the writer know what we’ve been doing so I hope they are a blog reader.

I asked Officer Jeramey Peters, our most senior Drug Recognition Expert, to give you more information on this topic.  He has been to the store in question and didn’t see anything that he recognized immediately as illegal.  He did say that the manufacturer’s frequently change the mixes up to avoid violating the law which makes it much harder for us to prosecute.  We have to buy or seize a sample and send it off for testing which takes quite awhile.  One of the indicators we look for in this type of thing is whether we are having a large number of EMS runs on people exhibiting symptoms of synthetic drug overdose (we are not).  We also do periodic stings to test the merchants on whether they will sell to underaged people and report them to the state for license violation (not to mention tickets for the violating seller).

Here is what Officer Peters wrote:

With the recent anonymous complaint received by the Auburn Hills Police Department regarding the sale and use of the substance known as K2 or Spice, the following is information to educate the public on what the substance is, what it looks like, the signs and symptoms a user will display, and the law regarding the substance.

The substance had received a lot of media attention in 2012 which led to new laws making the sale of specific chemical combinations illegal. However the substance is not gone and still easily obtainable.

What is K2 or Spice?

The substance is a mix of herbs, synthetic cannabinoids, and/or other ingredients that are intended to be used as aromatic incense or burning incense. Sold in Europe as early as 2004, this substance has package disclaimers saying that it is not intended for human consumption, however it has been found that use of the substance will cause a feeling of euphoria.

Some of these brands are up to 800 times more potent than marijuana.

Why do people use it?

The substance hit the market as a safe and legal alternative for marijuana. The substance is not detected by most drug screens but there are tests available that are costly. Users are able to obtain the substance at head shops and through the internet without having to purchase the drug in a dangerous area or from a drug dealer.

What does K2 or Spice look like?

There are numerous products out there that contain the substances found in K2 or Spice. The names K2 and Spice are just one of the manufacture names for the substance, similar to how Dodge, Chrysler, and Fiat are manufacture names for automobiles. However many users use the generic term ‘spice’ to discuss the substance regardless of what brand they use.

Other synthetic “spice” brands


“Spice” can be confused with other substances:

Signs and Symptoms of the User:

Because the drug is not controlled each package may result in extremely different results on the user. These differences may result in no feeling of impairment to death. Some users may display euphoria, giddiness, silliness other users may become violent, depressed, and suicidal.

Users will have reported issues with impaired short-term memory, cotton mouth, sensitivity to light, paranoia, headaches, visual hallucination, panic attacks, delirium, and strokes. Many have reported dependence, addiction, and overdoses on the drug.

Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) have observed users under the influence of ‘spice’ and noted that the drug affects the user similar to marijuana but with additional characteristics similar to Central Nervous System Stimulants and Hallucinogens.

Users have high blood pressure, high body temperature, high pulse rates, sweating, bloodshot eyes, unable to perform sobriety exercises, irritability, fidgety, and paranoid.

Death is possible: Click this link for an NBC report about a teen that died after use

Michigan Law:

On June 19th of 2012 Governor Snyder signed legislation to ensure that K2, Spice, and other dangerous synthetic drugs were no longer being sold on the shelves of Michigan stores. K2 and Spice are now considered a felony and classified as a Schedule I drug which is the same schedule as methamphetamine and heroin-a drug that has no medicinal use.  The problem, however, is that the sources simply change the chemical composition of these synthetic drugs in ways that avoid the law.

Enforcement Issues:

Because of the ever-changing drug culture legislature cannot possibly predict what the next drug of choice will be. Law makers are constantly trying to react to new drugs but after a lengthy process of creating new laws a replacement drug surfaces with a different chemical compound.  After the chemical compounds change the drug is no longer banned and the process has to start over again.

Officers cannot make immediate arrests when they find someone in possession of the substance because field tests are not readily available for the drug and laboratory tests take several months. The packaging on the substance does not list the chemical compounds found in the packaging to confirm if the chemicals are banned.

Although sale of the chemical is banned in Michigan, a simple Google search will find the substance and ship it directly to your door step.  We are hoping for federal legislation that can help slow down imports and sales across state lines.

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I'm the Chief of Police for the Auburn Hills Police Department.