We're not talking about your dad's Old Spice

  • Published
  • By Capt. Sarah Kress
In the small backroom of Hemp World, a head shop in Marytown, Tenn., a worker dutifully arranges an array of ceramic pipes inside a well-lit glass case. Another clerk cranks up the Greatful Bed music just before pulling out a new shipment of bongs and vaporizers. It's unusually warm outside and the owner knows it's going to be a good day for Hemp World. The students at Marytown University (MTU) just finished final exams and are gearing up for summer vacation. From inside the store, the owner hears two Delta Nu co-eds chatting.

Co-ed 1: "This is new. It's called Mickey's Magic. Look at that cute mouse on the package."

Co-ed 2: "That's the synthetic marijuana stuff the Phi Del's had at their party couple of weeks ago. They call it SPICE. It's a little pricy but it can beat a drug test. Plus, it's totally legal in Tennessee."

Clerk: "Yea, that stuff is selling like crazy. I can't keep enough of it in the store. But be careful. It's not your dad's Old Spice for sure," the clerk says and smiles from behind the glass counter.

But what the two co-eds don't know is that the substance is not marijuana at all. Spice is a mixture of herbs and botanicals sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids, similar to the compounds found in Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main ingredient in marijuana.

Although these chemicals are designed to mimic the effects of marijuana, they often induce a variety of other, dangerous side effects - everything from elevated heart rate and increased blood pressure, to paranoia and hallucinations.

These chemicals are largely unregulated, experimental in nature, and behave unpredictably in the body. For this reason, the user never really knows the potency of any particular dose of spice, or in this case, Mickey's Magic.

Prior to 2012, users could easily go online or walk into head shops, similar to the one described here, and purchase spice. However, all that changed in July when the President signed into law the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012. The chemicals found in spice are now listed alongside LSD, ecstasy, and marijuana as Schedule I controlled substances, the most restrictive category. That same month, Tennessee joined the fight when it amended its drug laws to specifically include "imitation controlled substances."

However, the states and the Department of Justice are not alone in this fight.

Spice use and possession is also prohibited by Air Force Instruction (AFI) 44-121, Alcohol Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) Program, 11 Apr 11, and Article 112a, Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Air Force Instruction 44-121 criminalizes the possession and use of any "intoxicating substance...that is inhaled, injected, consumed, or introduced into the body in any manner to alter mood or function." The instruction specifically prohibits the use and possession of "controlled substance analogues," or designer drugs such as spice.

A violation of AFI 44-121 carries with it a variety of criminal and administrative consequences to include the possibility of a federal conviction. The maximum punishment that could be imposed at a general court-martial for spice use in violation of AFI 44-121 is a dishonorable discharge (or a dismissal for an officer), confinement for two years, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a reduction to E-1 (reduction available only for enlisted members). Spice use and possession is also prohibited under Article 112a, UCMJ, which prohibits the use and possession of Schedule I controlled substances. When Article 112a is charged, the maximum period of confinement jumps to five years.

What good is the law if you aren't able to test for the substance, right? The Air Force Drug Testing Lab (AFDTL) had the same thought and added synthetic cannabinoids to their list of testable drugs. As a result, the Air Force has the capability to test for known, synthetic cannabinoids as part of an individual random drug test, a unit sweep, or even a military magistrate directed search authorization.

Finally, with so many tools at the prosecutor's fingertips, it makes sense that the courtrooms are seeing just as much spice action as the head shops.

From 2010 to 2011, the Air Force saw a sharp increase in the number of spice-related courts-martial. In 2010, one in every eight Air Force drug courts-martial included a spice charge. By 2011, the number increased to one in every three Air Force drug courts-martial.

These numbers tell us that synthetic drugs are here to stay. They also tell us that investigators and prosecutors have the tools and resources available to hold offenders accountable for their actions. So in other words, whether you are civilian or military, don't SPICE UP your life.

Contact the AEDC legal office at 454-7814 for more information.