Late Breaking News
Air Force Gets New Instruments to Test for Synthetic Marijuana Cont.
In the naval case studies, synthetic cannabinoids were detected in blood samples for just two patients and in none of the urine samples.
In March 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) made possessing and selling five chemicals contained in “fake pot” products like spice illegal in the U.S. for at least one year, while the DEA and HHS conducted further study on them. DEA extended that ban by six more months, beginning in March 2012.
“Our efforts have clearly shown that these chemicals present an imminent threat to public safety,” DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart, said in a statement. “This six-month extension is critical and gives us the time necessary to conduct the administrative scheduling process for permanent control.”
Military officials also have specifically addressed spice with a Navy-wide ban on the drug instituted in March 2010 and in the Air Force three months later. In February 2011, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh sent a memo to the Army prohibiting the use and possession of synthetic cannabis and other substitutes for THC.
Still, while spice may be banned, it continues to be used illegally in the military. For example, U.S. 3rd Fleet announced in October 2011 that an investigation found that 64 sailors had been caught using or distributing spice from three commands and, as a result, were being processed for separation.
In another instance, the Air Force announced last summer that a two-month investigation resulted in the discharge of 30 airmen who had used spice; half were reported to be habitual users and half were said to be first-time users.
An article in the June 2011 issue of the academic journal Military Medicine pointed out that the Army first reported the use of spice by troops in 2008 and that “anecdotal reports suggest use is widespread throughout all branches of the armed forces.”3
The article described a case in which a 23-year-old Navy corpsman was referred to his primary-care physician by a colleague for acting abnormally. The corpsman, who had used spice, had “demonstrated hours of nonsensical speech, paranoia of being videotaped and offering multiple unwarranted apologies to coworkers.”
The researchers stated that “cognitive impairment, mood disturbances and changes in sensory perception are hallmarks of acute spice intoxication that render a user unfit for duty.”
The study also pointed out that spice is difficult to detect with commercially available drug-screening and that there are multiple formulations of the drug available worldwide. In Germany, the authors wrote that drug designers were able to alter the formulations of spice to replace banned chemicals four weeks later.
“The scientific community has been unable to match the speed of the drug designers, and, as a result, the current composition of synthetic cannabinoids contained in each blend is unknown,” they wrote.
Aaron Jacobs, program manager for Air Force Drug Testing, acknowledged that one of the challenges is the high number of chemicals contained in spice products.
“When we test for cocaine or marijuana, it is one chemical we look for. It is one way of testing,” he said. “There are reported to be maybe hundreds of different spice-type chemicals out there, and each one requires us to identify that individual chemical.”
In addition, he said that spice chemicals could be effective at much lower doses, “maybe one-tenth or one-hundredth the level that we are used to measuring and seeing, and that makes it more difficult to go to lower levels to detect these chemicals.”
Jacobs explained that the two new instruments the Air Force purchased for testing will allow it to do perhaps 25 to 30 times more spice testing than the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, because the instruments used by the Air Force are dedicated solely to this type of testing. Jacobs said the Air Force also wanted the new instruments, because spice is not included in the random urinalysis program that tests for general drug abuse.
“We had to have a different set of instruments. It is a different type of technology, and we have had to make some modifications to get there,” he said.
Testing would be done when it is commander-directed, when there is a suspicion of use, or during a unit or gate sweep.
While the Air Force was the first service to announce expanded spice testing, the Navy recently announced it would begin random testing of urine samples for synthetic chemical compounds by a contracted laboratory and will begin doing the testing in-house later this year. In addition, DoD and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have also been working to develop better screening tools for spice.
Meanwhile, officials across the military have been warning troops to stay away from the drug. Late last year, Navy Medicine announced the launch of a new informational video and posters detailing the health dangers associated with the use of spice. The campaign’s slogan is “Spice: It’s Not Legal. It’s Not Healthy. It’s Not Worth It!” A video posted by the Navy on YouTube about spice warned troops that “spice presents a real and present danger to your mental and physical health, as well as your military career.”
1. Cohen J, Morrison S, Greenberg J, Saidinejad M. Clinical presentation of intoxication due to synthetic cannabinoids. Pediatrics. 2012 Apr;129(4):e1064-7. Epub 2012 Mar 19. PubMed PMID: 22430444.
2. Hurst D, Loeffler G, McLay R. Psychosis associated with synthetic cannabinoid agonists: a case series. Am J Psychiatry. 2011 Oct;168(10):1119. PubMed PMID:21969050.
3. Johnson LA, Johnson RL, Alfonzo C. Spice: a legal marijuana equivalent. MilMed. 2011 Jun;176(6):718-20. PubMed PMID: 21702397.
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