Five Lancaster University students have been hospitalised after they ingested an illegal cannabis substitute known as ‘spice’.
What is ‘spice’?
Also known as ‘fake weed’, ‘bliss, ‘Black Mamba’, ‘skunk’ or ‘Bombay Blue’, spice is a mixture of herbs and manmade chemicals that attempt to simulate the effects of marijuana – but are often much stronger.
Is it illegal?
Although it is often marketed as a legal, safe alternative to cannabis, and is labelled as incense with a “not for human consumption” warning, individual components within the herbs can be illegal Class B drugs.
In an effort to stay ahead of legislation, creators change the manmade substances within the herbs – keeping them on the right side of legality but endangering users who consume their products without knowing what is in them.
It has been sold extensively online since 2006 and is smoked with or without tobacco.
How does it affect users?
Some users reporting feeling relaxed and having some mild changes in perception. Other users have experienced extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations.
As a relatively new drug – which frequently changes its chemical make-up – many of the effects are not yet fully known. Analysis of how the chemicals affect the brain has demonstrated they attach to the same nerve cell receptors as the main mind-altering ingredient in marijuana (tetrahydrocannabinol or THC).
Moreover because creators frequently change the chemical makeup of these ‘herb packets’ it is difficult to know how each individual will react to the unidentified chemicals.
How popular is it?
It is the second most popular drug among secondary school pupils and twice as many boys than girls use the drug, according to data from the US University of Michigan.
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