Recovering addicts, scientists fear laws will never solve VA spice problem

Smoking synthetic marijuana was fun at first for Charles.

“I tried it and I was like wow this feels really cool,” he said.  “In the end it’s not fun what it’s doing to you.”

Over time, the 20-year-old Hampton Roads native said spice’s hold on him felt more like a death grip.  He believes it’s partly because of how the chemicals in it changed when manufacturers found a way around the state law.

“It wasn’t a mental thing that made me want it,” said Charles.  “It became a physical thing, a physical addiction where I had to have it.”

Charles told NewsChannel 3 he started smoking spice a few years before the state outlawed it in 2011. The law banned several chemical compounds spice makers spray on plant materials to create a marijuana-like high. However, a NewsChannel 3 investigation revealed manufacturers are getting around the law by tweaking those synthetic marijuana compounds.

Charles says his body noticed the difference.

“My breathing would start being irregular,” he said.  “I remember throwing up blood.”

“It felt like darkness was taking over my room and I was getting suffocated,” said Charles.  “You just don’t know what you’re putting in your body when you do it.”

State forensic scientists tell NewsChannel 3 new batches of suspected spice are often laced with manufactured compounds they have never seen before.

“We never know what’s going to be on the plant material, said state forensic scientist Brian Meinweiser.

Meinweiser said hundreds of synthetic cannabinoids can be tweaked in hundreds of ways themselves, which is why he believes spice makers will always have the upper hand.

“They know what’s going to be controlled in the United States, so then they’ll start changing the chemical makeup of the compounds they’re spraying or importing in the United States to stay a step ahead of the legislature,” Meinweiser said.

“We were aware that would likely occur,” said Virginia Attorney General-Elect Mark Herring.

Herring wrote the spice law as a state senator in 2011. He told NewsChannel 3 during the last legislative session, they added something to the law they thought would be a big step in fixing the loophole.

“Rather than identify a specific chemical compound [the law identifies] classes of chemicals,” said Herring. “But that’s not going to solve the problem in and of itself. They will still be out there changing the classes.”

A 2012 government report said more than 11,000 people went to emergency rooms across the country for reactions to spice.  Herring said he will create a designer drug task force as Attorney General to help seal the loophole in the state’s law.

Related: 

Spice law loophole allows newer versions to remain in stores

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