Officials from the Idaho Office of Drug Policy asked the oversight board of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Thursday to ban a substance known as “Spice” or “K2,” which they say results in marijuana-like highs and significant health risks.
Caitlin Zak, an aide in the Office of Drug Policy, laid out the agency’s case before board members. She said that Spice is an herbal incense mixture that is popular with youth and those on probation or parole. Those familiar with the substance know that it produces a high similar to marijuana – which is why it is becoming increasingly popular. Zak said that the drug is easily available to anyone who might want to give it a try. “Anyone can buy the product,” Zak explained. “You can be 5-years-old.”
The problem, she said, is how manufacturers skirt regulations to keep the substance out of the regulatory eye of governments. Because it is packaged with a label that specifies it is “not for human consumption,” Zak says agencies like the Food and Drug Administration are unable to regulate the sale of the substance. But make no mistake, she said, users know what they’re doing when they purchase it. “It’s being advertised as the new legal marijuana,” Zak said. “They know what its purpose is.”
Spice has several adverse side effects that can be extremely detrimental to one’s health, officials said. It can lead to nausea, vomiting, increased agitation, elevated blood pressure, seizures, and loss of consciousness. Zak said that during research on the drug, she heard about users having terrible experiences from using it. “It was a horrible trip for them,” she said.
Another reason the drug has grown in popularity is its ability to be undetectable to typical drug screens, which means those on parole and probation for drug offenses can still smoke the substance and not face penalty. Zak said that tests are on the market to detect the presence of Spice in the body, but that they are too expensive for everyday use.
Several states – 12 in all – have taken some type of action against the drug. Legislatures in nine states have passed laws to ban the use of cannabinoid – the liquid used to spray the incense to allow it to produce a high. Independent pharmacy and drugs boards in three states have enacted statewide rules outlawing the drug.
In Idaho, there are two paths that drug policy officials can use two bring such a ban to the state – the Idaho Legislature or Idaho Board of Pharmacy, which is tasked with regulating controlled substances in the state. Zak and another colleague asked the board or for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to do anything in their power to stop the drug from affecting more of Idaho’s citizens. Board members declined, saying that such action, such as regulation of the drug or age restrictions on who could purchase it, is not within the legal authority of the board or department.
Board members weren’t silent on the issue, however. At the end of Zak’s presentation, board members approved a statement calling on Idaho Gov. Butch Otter to work with the Idaho Legislature and the Idaho Board of Pharmacy to craft a solution to the Spice problem.