Russia, a country with one of the highest per-capita alcohol consumption rates in the world, is now seeing a proliferation of young drug users, many of whom are abusing a substance called “spice”—a concoction intended to mimic marijuana in effect while evading anti-drug laws. The ingredients are often touted as “natural”—derived from herbs—but in fact they are at best synthetic analogs of cannabinoid compounds. Because their manufacture is unregulated, there is essentially no limit to or control over what is added to any product marketed as “spice.”
In recent months, over two dozen deaths and 700 hospitalizations have been attributed to spice, which is essentially a mixture of innocuous herbs sprayed with psychoactive chemicals. Smoking spice can produce a feeling of euphoria, relaxation, and altered perception, but can also produce hallucinations, seizures, and agitation. Other adverse symptoms include elevated heart rate, nausea, and dissociative states. One Russian woman claimed that while high on—and addicted to—spice she became convinced that killing herself and her children was the only way out of her predicament.
Research on spice has been limited, but it appears that the cannabinoid analogs bind to the same receptors in the brain as cannabis. However, some of the compounds seem to bind more strongly to the receptors, possibly resulting in unpredictable effects. This could also explain the increased potential for addiction.
With abuse running rampant, and reports of incidents including children jumping out of windows, Russian authorities are responding to spice by ramping up enforcement and enacting stricter laws. They claim that the drug is manufactured in labs in Southeast Asia and smuggled in by foreigners. Meanwhile, manufacturers play a game of Whack-a-mole with authorities by altering the chemical composition of spice to stay one step ahead of being on the banned substances list. In response, authorities are seeking a broader definition of the drug in order to remain current.
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