Alabama health officials eye chemical compounds that mimic marijuana

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The designer drug “Spice” and other herbal and chemical compounds that mimic marijuana have captured the full attention of state health officials.

In the past year, these substances possibly played a role in one suicide and at least 56 emergency room visits in Alabama, said Dr. Jim McVay with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Monday at the State Capitol Auditorium in Montgomery.

“There are more questions than answers right now,” McVay said. “Our belief is that many of these products are not illegal, but there are children ending up with all kinds of complications. We have one report from a family that said their 18-year-old committed suicide while using these products.”

Gaining in popularity since 2004, herbal incense-type products such as “Spice” and K2 incense are sold over the Internet and in some convenience and specialty stores. They are available under a wide range of names and can offer a high similar to that of marijuana. The products are sometimes marketed “legal pot” or even potpourri and other household products.

Although the federal government, Alabama and other states have taken steps to classify some of these products as controlled substances, manufacturers can tweak the chemical compound and create new products not addressed in the laws, McVay said.

“It is probably really localized,” McVay said of synthetic marijuana availability in Alabama. “There could be one store or one place that has it and the kids find out about it.”

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