When David Rozga went to the local shopping mall with his friends, he wasn’t shopping for videogames or flirting with girls. He was on a mission to buy a type of incense he’d heard called Spice.
Newly graduated from high school in Indianola, Iowa, Rozga and his friends had been told that Spice can be smoked like marijuana, with stronger effects.
After experimenting with Spice, David grew increasingly anxious and agitated. He told his father that he felt like he was “in hell.” A few hours later, David shot himself with a rifle. He was 18 years old.
The potent substance that led to David’s death is sold legally nationwide. Here are five things all parents should know about Spice, a new “in” drug for teens:
IDENTIFICATION: Spice is commonly called “legal marijuana,” “K2,” or “Potpourri.” It consists of dried leaves sprayed with chemicals. Marketed as herbal incense, the product is not overtly intended for human consumption. It is sold in small colorful packets with attractive names like Green Buddha, Golden Eye and Strawberries Extreme.
ORIGINS: The chemicals used in Spice originated with retiree John W. Huffman. As a scientist at Clemson University, he developed more than 400 cannabinoids that mimic marijuana’s effects.
Huffman published academic papers describing how to make the compounds “in three steps using commercially available materials.” Entrepreneurs tried out the recipes, sprayed the chemicals on plant leaves, and discovered they could be smoked like pot.
Huffman’s cannabinoid compounds went global. They are now cheaply mass produced in countries like China and imported by Spice manufacturers in the U.S.
AVAILABILITY: One reason Spice is attractive to teens is because it is easily purchased at shopping malls, gas stations and convenience stores. The product is kept behind the counter. In theory, retailers do not sell it to anyone under age 18.
But as ABC News discovered, kids as young as 14 walk into stores and purchase Spice with no questions asked. The drug sells for between $15 and $85.
EFFECTS: According to Huffman, the scariest thing about Spice is that it’s never been tested on humans. Unlike cannabis, which has been widely used for thousands of years, Huffman warns that “nobody knows anything about how these new compounds act in the human body.”
Missouri Poison Control Center Director Anthony Scalzo contends that the drug’s side effects include: extreme blood pressure and heart rate elevation, agitation, paranoia, delusions and hallucinations. Since 2010, Spice users have made more than 4,000 calls to poison control centers for help.
The designer drug also has addictive properties. Throngs of adolescents are turning up at drug treatment centers looking to shake their addiction.
PREVENTIVE MEASURES: In November 2010, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it would reclassify five popular chemical varieties of Spice as controlled substances. The emergency ban did little to stop widespread sale of the drug, which can easily be made in hundreds of alternate ways.
In March 2011, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley introduced legislation to outlaw all forms of the synthetic cannabinoid.
Retail store trade groups oppose legislation that would interfere with the lucrative industry. They claim that Spice is already regulated by store owners who don’t sell to kids under age 18. Dan Francis, Executive Director of the Retail Compliance Association, told ABC News: “A ban is very dangerous because it sends it underground. And I’d like to ask the government: ‘What is wrong with euphoria, and who gave them the right to regulate it?’ ”