Mothers speak of horrifying effects of spice drug: 'He throws up blood'

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) So-called synthetic marijuana is banned under both federal and state law, but some local parents are contending it's still being sold to their kids, and it has devastating effects.

Law officers say they go after the drug, often called "spice," but it's tough to stay ahead of it.

"My son is addicted to spice," Shyanne told Eyewitness News. She gave an interview on condition her last name wasn't used. "He's gotten to the point where he's homeless, because the drug is more important to him than his family."

It was about a year ago that she discovered her 22-year-old son was using spice, he may have started smoking it a couple years ago.

"I think he started doing other things that were illegal," the mother said. "And since this is legal, he thinks it's OK that he can smoke it because it's legal."

But, it's not legal any more. And more troubling, Shyanne said the physical impacts on her son are horrifying.

"He throws up blood, he turns grey and almost passes out," the mother described. "He doesn't care if he lives or dies. It's just, when is he going to get this next bag of spice."

Raw interview: Mother says 'I've cried, and I've begged' to get son to give up 'spice'

At Kaiser Permanente, addiction counselor Dan Hill has seen the serious effects of spice for about the last five years.

"You can get to the point where you can't function at all," he said.

"The guys who get strung out on it complain of severe paranoia, and seizing up, having seizures," Hill said. "It's unpredictable. You can get very addicted to it."

Shyanne said she believes she knows the smoke shop in Bakersfield where her son would get spice. To see if it's still being sold there, Eyewitness News asked a young girl to go in with a hidden camera, and ask for spice.

"What kind of spice (do) you use?" the clerk behind a counter is heard asking the teenager. She asks about K2, the clerk apparently doesn't have that but offers two other types. He checks her ID, which shows she's 17 years old.

The teenager pays $5 and walks out with a small packet with dried material inside.

Synthetic marijuana is found often in packets or small jars.

"'Spice' refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana (cannabis) and that are marketed as 'safe' legal alternatives to that drug," reads information from a National Institute on Drug Abuse website.

"Sold under many names, including K2, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, and others -- and labeled 'not for human consumption' -- these products contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for their psychoactive (mind altering) effects," the NIDA information continues.

And, a NIDA scientist finds more troubling aspects to the drug. "Using Spice is very dangerous because the chemicals and compounds that are in it vary from batch to batch," reported Dr. Marilyn A. Huestis last year. "Essentially, if you use it, you're experimenting on yourself."

The local counselor sees the same, serious problem.

"With spice, you really don't know what you're getting because they keep changing it," Hill said. "Changing it around to get around the law."

"We've done several operations where we've actually gone into the 'head shops' and purchased spice, and come back and shut these places down," undercover officer Joshua Stephens told Eyewitness News. "Unfortunately, it is still out there, and it is able to be purchased. It is illegal to sell it in the State of California."

Spice has been illegal in California as of Jan. 1, 2012. Senate Bill 420 makes it a misdemeanor to sell, distribute, or possess for sale "any synthetic cannabinoid compound or any synthetic cannabinoid derivative." It lists five specific chemical compounds.

Federal law is similar. According to the NIDA website, the Drug Enforcement Agency "designated the five active chemicals most frequently found in Spice as Schedule I substances, making it illegal to sell, buy, or possess them." Changing those chemicals slightly makes the drug dangerous for users, and tough for law enforcement.

That's also covered in the information from NIDA "Manufacturers of Spice products attempt to evade these legal restrictions by substituting different chemicals in their mixtures, while the DEA continues to monitor the situation and evaluate the need for updating the list of banned cannabinoids," their statement reads.

The local drug officer sees the very same thing. "They'll use other substances until it becomes banned, and they'll switch to a different substance producing the same effect," Stephens said. "Unfortunately, I think that the law's going to continue to be one step behind these individuals who are making this."

Meanwhile, families say the drug is taking a severe toll.

Eyewitness News heard from a mother whose son and his friends have had serious side effects from the use of Spice. This mother believes they're getting the drug from a smoke shop in central Bakersfield.

Shyanne, meanwhile, said she tried helping her son, but nothing worked.

"I've tried to get him into recovery homes, I've tried to get him into counseling," Shyanne said. As of late April she hadn't seen her son for a couple months, and doesn't know where he is or how he's doing.

"I haven't had much success with folks getting off (Spice)," the drug counselor at Kaiser Permanente said. "It really has done some tremendous damage to kids." Hill says it's mostly young adults who use Spice, and that's what national studies also find.

"Spice products are popular among young people," the NIDA website states. "Of the illicit drugs most used by high-school seniors, they are second only to marijuana." Those experts say that could be due to the products being promoted as "natural," and that the chemicals in Spice are not easily detected in standard drug tests.

Shyanne thinks that's why her son may have started smoking Spice. She confronted the clerks in the smoke shop where she says he bought the drug. "I walked in, I asked them point blank if they were selling him Spice, and they said 'yes,'" she said.

The drug counselor also thinks it's possible to buy Spice locally.

"They put it behind the counter now, because they know the pressure's starting to come on them," Hill said. He also hopes the use is starting to go down. "It's not as much as it used to be, because the word's kind of getting out on it."

Families say they have told police where they believe Spice is being sold.

The undercover officer advises families to find out more about spice, and to be on the look-out for possible use. "Education is the biggest thing there is at this time," Stephens said. "Parental education of knowing where their child is and what they're doing."

The drug addiction counselor also thinks families can put some focus on the stores selling spice. "Put some pressure on these guys. What have you got this out here for?" Hill advises.

Shyanne said she tried that at the smoke shop she believes was selling her son Spice. But, Spice is apparently still being sold there.

The mother is left with a heart-breaking question. "Is it going to take our kids dying before somebody actually makes a change and takes it off the streets? What's it going to take?"