Like many college kids, I spent plenty of my university days in a marijuana haze. But I gave up pot years ago after I began experiencing mild panic attacks after only a few hits.
That's something I should have remembered before I decided to try Spice, one of several synthetic marijuana products sold for around $25 a gram at local head shops.
Marketed as incense, herbal concoctions such as Spice and K-2 are legal for now. A bill sponsored by state representative Ulysses Jones and state senator Reginald Tate, both of Memphis, seeks to create a Class A misdemeanor for production, manufacture, distribution, or possession of the synthetic cannabinoids.
After only two hits of Spice — a mixture of herbs with funny names like dwarf skullcap, lion's tail, Indian warrior, and marshmallow — I went into full-on panic mode. My heart was racing. My airway constricted, and I began to shiver.
About an hour passed before I felt the same relaxing high I remembered feeling after smoking marijuana.
"Some say it's a more profound high than marijuana, and some say it's a little lesser but it gives them a high," says Tim Dwyer, the Shelby County drug court judge who urged Jones and Tate to pursue legislation banning the sale of these products.
The bill also includes an amendment to ban the sale and possession of synthetic cocaine, white powder sold in head shops as "bath salts" or "herbal party snuff" ranging from $25 to $35 a gram and with names such as Charge and Blowout. Ingredients for Blowout include caffeine and menthol.
Dwyer, who oversees the county's rehabilitation program for drug offenders, learned about the synthetic products after a few drug court clients were seen purchasing them.
"When you're dealing with people with addictions, they're always looking for a different way to get high," Dwyer says. "They're always trying to circumvent the process instead of dealing with the addiction."
The clients who purchased the drug substitutes were kicked out of the program, but Dwyer says it's hard to spot which drug court clients are using the synthetic products since they're not detectable through drug screens.
The bill passed the Senate 32-0 earlier this month. It's currently awaiting approval in the House.
A local head shop owner, who asked the Flyer not to reveal her identity, isn't worried about the possible ban.
"It does make us money, but we planned for it to become illegal," she said. "Historically, it hasn't been a huge part of our business."