Fake pot carries real dangers

Have you noticed a lot of students buying potpourri and incense recently? It’s not because college kids have decided to adopt the lifestyle of a middle-aged homemaker. It’s because some kinds of perfumed plants can get you high.

“Spice,” released for sale in 2004, is a mix of herbs, infused with synthetic chemicals, that is marketed as incense and acts like marijuana when smoked. The word is now a generic term for fake weed and, because it’s manufactured, the majority of drug screening tests won’t detect it. Best of all, the drug can be easily obtained at many gas stations and head shops.

For these reasons, spice is seen as a placeholder for weed, despite the fact that the two are far from the same. While marijuana is a natural plant, spice is manufactured and highly dangerous. Though Florida lawmakers likely miss the point that stringent rules against marijuana have led to the popularity of spice, the state Legislature will soon consider banning the substance, and rightly so.

The potent potpourri is responsible for a wave of hospitalizations, something that can’t be said for weed. Last month in Texas, two teens were hospitalized for chest pains and heart problems after using spice. Similarly, two 17-year-olds from Tallahassee were sent to the emergency room when one became unresponsive while on the drug.

Likewise, the Utah Poison Control Center has received at least 90 calls from people who said they used spice, 40 percent of whom were hospitalized.

Because of its dangers, even some head shop owners, like Chad Rowland of Stuart, refuse to stock the drug. He said to the Stuart News that he estimated his losses amount to $300 to $500 in profits and 50 customers each day.

What makes spice products so dangerous is that they are completely unregulated. Makers can include whatever poisonous chemicals they like in the mixtures while users remain oblivious.

No one can claim legitimate surprise at fake weed’s swift rise. It’s human nature to look for loopholes, especially in pursuit of profit.

Sadly, government regulation has driven people from a safer, more natural drug that has been used for thousands of years to a dangerous one. It’s safe to assume people wouldn’t use spice if they could legally use the real thing.

Nonetheless, Florida will probably have a much-needed spice ban on the books after the next legislative session, joining 11 other states that have done the same.

State politicians could also consider an easier solution to the potpourri problem and legalize its natural counterpart.

Vincent DeFrancesco is a junior majoring in mass communications.