VISTA — A male student at Rancho Buena Vista High School suffered serious seizures in the school bathroom and it was later determined that the “fake drug” Spice had caused the episode, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
“He just started seizing up and went into convulsions,” Vista Detective Earnell Sease said.
He said that after the seizure the student had glassy eyes, was confused and disoriented and looked like he wanted to nap.
“My first suspicion was marijuana, but I couldn’t smell anything,” he said.
Meet Spice, a so-called designer drug masked and sold as incense that is undetectable in drug tests for marijuana.
It comes in a variety of flavors such as watermelon and blueberry, and when smoked it mimics a potent marijuana high that authorities say is extremely dangerous — even deadly.
Brandon Rice, 14, of the Pittsburgh area, died Oct. 27 after smoking “synthetic marijuana” in June that resulted in a double lung transplant, from which he did not recover, according to various news reports.
His case is just one of many deaths dotting the nation and attributed to the alarming trend of synthetically manufactured drugs with street names such as Spice and Bath Salts, which mimic highs from controlled substances such as marijuana, cocaine, LSD and others — but can be much more toxic.
Bath Salts are another name for the white powder that is commonly disguised as jewelry cleaner or decorative sand, that produces a high similar to cocaine, according to William Perno, a parent, retired deputy sheriff and co-founder of the Chula Vista-based organization People Against Spice Sales, or PASS.
Bath Salts have accounted for numerous incidents where people have reported vivid, terrifying hallucinations and died from the use or committed heinous acts while under the influence, Perno said.
By the end of October of this year, there were 5,625 calls made to poison control regarding Bath Salts, compared to 303 made in 2010, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
For the “synthetic marijuana,” the poison control center reported receiving 2,882 calls in 2010, which was up from 14 calls in 2009.
These disguised drugs have been purchased in stores — sometimes found in the bubblegum aisle.
“As a kid, you think if it’s being sold at my local convenience store, it’s probably OK,” said Paola Avila, spokeswoman for Assembly member Ben Hueso (D-76) who authored a bill to ban the synthetic drug Bath Salts
“They try it out and then they go into cardiac arrest,” she said.
Each package varies, and some contents of the herbal formula may be 50 to even 500 times stronger than marijuana, she said.
Perno urges people not to refer to Spice or K2 (another street name) as “synthetic marijuana” or “fake weed” and said that there is nothing plant based in it and that it is a toxic chemical that is sprayed onto anything that burns, such as rolled up newspaper.
The North Coastal Prevention Youth Coalition visited 30 stores in Vista and Oceanside during the summer, in efforts to encourage local retailers to stop selling the synthetic drugs.
“Westfield Carlsbad sold it,” said Erica Leary, MPH, program manager for the North Coastal Prevention Coalition/Vista Community Clinic.
Prior to the youth visiting the stores, Leary had sent out letters to retailers in three cities that held licenses to sell alcohol, and asked them to voluntarily quit selling the synthetic drugs if they were doing so.
Sease said that Spice became a problem at Rancho Buena Vista High School because it is cheap, easily available and legal.
He said although some of the chemicals used in Spice are now illegal, there isn’t a readily available drug test to screen for the chemicals so enforcement is nearly impossible.
A chemical ban went into effect March 1 after the DEA temporarily placed five synthetic cannabinoids commonly used in the herbal incense into the government’s most tightly controlled category: no accepted medical use.
These drugs are not yet banned statewide for personal use and are tangled in legal details at the federal level, although on Oct. 9 it became a misdemeanor in California to sell the synthetic stimulant commonly referred to as Bath Salts, after the governor signed Hueso’s (D-76) bill that targets synthetic drugs, AB 486.
But on Nov. 1, Chula Vista became the first California city to enact an emergency ordinance against the distribution of the psychoactive bath salts and the psychoactive herbal incense (Spice).
Although they are paving the way for other cities to follow, a loophole still remains on the state level.
“Possession for personal use is not covered by this nuisance ordinance,” Perno said. “This was not addressed in the California State legislation.”
Perno said the law is “silent” and allows the deadly drugs to be possessed for personal use.
“This is why school districts and cities throughout the state are looking to enact local measures to address this huge gap in the state legislation,” he said.
On Oct. 17, the Sweetwater Union High School District board banned students from using synthetic drugs after months of working with local lawmakers.
It stemmed from the 2011 graduation day collapse of an Olympian High School student who had a heart attack after he had smoked Spice. Fortunately, he survived.