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'Spice' Drug Overdoses Up In San Diego

A poster at the Naval Medical Center San Diego in Balboa Park warns of the effects of the synthetic drug known as "spice," Dec. 6, 2011.
Associated Press
A poster at the Naval Medical Center San Diego in Balboa Park warns of the effects of the synthetic drug known as "spice," Dec. 6, 2011.

'Spice' Drug Overdoses Up In San Diego
'Spice' Drug Overdoses Up In San Diego GUESTS: Lee Cantral, director, California Poison Control System, San Diego Division Dan Eaton, attorney, Seltzer, Caplan, McMahon & Vitek

At this is KPBS Midday Edition common Maureen Cavanaugh. A synthetic drug called spice is becoming a concern. Healthcare workers have had to do with more than 40 overdoses or drug reactions in the last month. Officials don't know if or when how much of the concoction is still on the street. Joining me are Lee Cantral of the California Poison Control System will be welcome to the program. Hello. And we are expecting police Lieutenant Scott Wahl to join us also. What exactly is spice? Spice is not one chemical. It is a generic term for substances statistically sold as incense that are laced with chemicals. The chemicals that are used, they are very diverse in terms of the chemical structure. There is no single standard form of the chemicals that are being sprayed on these type of products for people to use. Back kind of reaction is that have in somebody's brain? They all affect a certain receptor in the brain that is also affected by marijuana. It's the cannabinoid one receptor which is responsible for in mediating things like mood appetite, and blood pressure to an extent. All these types of chemicals stipulate that receptor. The problem is unlike marijuana, which has a multitude of pharmacologically active components to it, these chemicals, and again I say chemicals not drugs, because they are not tested on humans. These chemicals stimulate the receptor, they can do it to different degrees. Some are extremely potent. They can be up to four They can be up to 400 to 500 times more potent marijuana. We truly don't know if these products have other effects on other organ systems. In all likelihood, different patches have different effects. What happens to people when the overdose? Or they have interaction? Is difficult to say overdose. Because there is no established -- therapeutic dose for any of these chemicals. For bad reactions we seen a promise of symptoms. People can lose consciousness. Their vacations dose -- cases of seizures, kidney damage, earlier vascular system damage. It is really difficult to predict what is going to happen. These are not drugs. So when people buy these compounds, there is no dosing recommendations on that. Is they are actually sold, people who are selling them illegally, the products they are selling say not for human consumption. And then it will get a list of what they say is in there. Subtype of herbal cleanse or things like that. There is nothing about dosing or anything like that. They can't say that it is for human consumption. Are some of the chemicals that are used to making spice? There is a broad variety of chemicals that happen that have been identified. One of the problems is they are still evolving. That is the problem with regulation and trying to catch people that are selling them in creating them is because traditionally there were three types of compounds that were identified that were synthetic cannabinoid receptor, that stimulated that receptor. It is gained popularity in the last seven years to eight years. Chemists are developing new types of chemical entities that work on the same receptors. Lee, the substance with so many unknowns in, and potentially dangerous, people are using it to get the same or similar high that they could get from using marijuana. But I e heard is the reason that they are using it instead of marijuana is because it can't be detected and drug tests. Is that right? Back yes, that is true. In standard urine drug testing, they will not pick up any of these compounds. Along marijuana be detected in the body? Depending on how often or how heavy someone uses marijuana, it can be detected of at least one month. Joining me now is our legal analyst transcendent. Welcome -- Dan Eaton. Thank you to the program. -- Welcome to the program. Thank you. Let's review the consequences of marijuana in the workplace and drug testing. Dan, employees be fired for using marijuana? Back if Even if they have the medical use, the California Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that an employer is within its right to terminate an employee who tests Hodges positive for marijuana in the system even if they have one of the cards that were authorized by the compassionate use act of 1996, medical marijuana law. Back there is anecdotal evidence -- There is evidence that spice is popular with the military because they don't want drugs in the system. Consequences to have a positive drug test in the military? The military has its own set of specific rules about termination. You want people who are free from drug abuse, but you can imagine anything from the suspension to be thrown out. The interesting thing about spice you can see happening down the line, of course I'm not a drug specialist, see the drug testing adapted for this if it becomes a significant problem. I don't know what the regulations are concerning termination from the military. I will tell you get the standards to which our honorable men and women are held, I would be surprised if the consequences are very serious. And they should be. That Dan, we have a couple states now that have legalized -- Dan, we have a couple states that legalized the recreational use. What is subject -- what is interesting about the subject, they are decriminalized under state law, Colorado Supreme Court in June of this very year, Maureen, just ruled that an employer can fire someone who tests positive for marijuana even though that state decriminalized marijuana altogether. This case the person who is suing was a quadriplegic who used it for paying. Even though the law says that you cannot be fired for all to be contact, the word lawful, does not excuse things that are still of legal under federal law. It is still illegal -- classified as of class once substance under federal law. Because states are legalizing it doesn't make it lawful. Therefore folks who take it and test positive, are subject to federal. Are these as positive as these to be? It depends on industry, they are required. If you are asking whether they are spreading, probably no. They are very expensive. What you find instead is that you have the testing done based on reasonable suspicion. That is the only time apart from random drug testing that an employer can test and incompetent employee. A prospective employer contest any applicant under California law. Many employers do just that before the person becomes an employee. I've been speaking with Dan Eaton of . Thank you so much. At the holidays. I will go back to me Cantrell director of the San Diego division of the California poison control center. Are any of the chemical sprayed on the order spice detectable interim test? Nonstandard drug testing's conduct. That is one of the problems with respect to identify and criminalizing possession or utilization of any of these chemicals is because the change, but Mister pretty smart, they are trying to stamp from law enforcement. As soon as one particular type its regulated, they had already produced three or four others fall outside of the regulatory process. I have written some users of spice think this is a natural substance. No, it is absolutely not natural. These are all synthetic. These are all chemicals that are applied to a variety of different herbs to make people think they are natural. Is a smooth these things, they are -- is something similar to marijuana. People will mistakenly call these synthetic marijuana. It is not true. These are all chemicals made in a laboratory were designed to stimulate certain receptors in the brain. Lee, when you say the chemical mix seems to be changed and shaken up. Law enforcement and the laws themselves probably have a hard time keeping up with this? That is very true. They are evolving so rapidly, unfortunately and science to try and identify a compound that someone just makes the, it is very difficult. A lot of people think we will pop it in a machine, and it will spit out with the chemical list. Is that machine has ever heard or seen that chemical before, it has no reference on which to identify it that is what we have run up against quitted it would be spice compounds. How concerned are you about this? It has been an ongoing issue. Over the last -- Wiese service equipment in 2011, dropped off in 2000 in 2011, dropped off in 2013, and was on uptick in 2014. Now we're seeing quite a few people were "at the poison control system people who have had very bad reactions and end up in the emergency department. Is bad reactions are the potential for long-term consequences? Certainly. You certainly can't. There have -- there's you certainly can. Some of them have called -- cause kidney damage, someone has a seizure and hit her head, they could have long-term damage from that. Act I have been speaking with Lee Cantral with the San Diego division of California Poison Control System . Earlier I spoke with Dan Eaton of -- -- Lee, thank you so much. Thank you.[ Music ]

A number of people in San Diego have recently ended up in hospitals suffering from overdoses from the synthetic drug known as "spice."

Some use the drug as an alternative to marijuana because spice doesn't easily show up on drug tests.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that 40 spice overdoses have occurred in downtown San Diego in the past two weeks, and that a high number of overdoses have happened across the country this year.

Lee Cantral, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System, said spice is a generic term for the drug.

“It’s typically sold as incense that is laced with chemicals,” Cantral told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday. “Chemicals that are used are very diverse and they all affect a certain receptor in the brain that is also affected by marijuana.”

Cantal said the problem with spice is the potency ranges because of the range of chemicals that are used. The American Association of Poison Control Centers issued a warning in April about synthetic cannabinoids.

“We truly don’t know if these products have other effects on other organ systems,” Cantral said. “Different batches have different effects.”

The array of chemicals also makes it difficult to regulate, he said.