Synthetic marijuana use a growing problem for U.S. military
The abuse of the substance has so alarmed military officials that they’ve started an aggressive testing program that last year led to the investigation of more than 1,100 suspected users.
So-called synthetic pot is readily available on the Internet and has become popular nationwide in recent years, but its use among troops and sailors has raised concerns among the Pentagon brass.
“You can just imagine the work that we do in a military environment,” said Mark Ridley, deputy director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, adding, “you need to be in your right mind when you do a job.”
Two years ago, only 29 Marines and sailors were investigated for Spice. This year, the number topped 700, the investigative service said. Those found guilty of using Spice are kicked out, although the Navy does not track the overall number of dismissals.
The Air Force punished 497 airmen last year, compared with 2010’s 380, according to figures provided by the Pentagon. The Army does not track Spice investigations but says it has medically treated 119 soldiers for the drug.
Military officials emphasize those caught represent a tiny fraction of all service members and note none was in a leadership position or believed high while on duty.
Spice is made up of exotic plants whose leaves are coated with chemicals that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, but are five to 200 times more potent.
More than 40 states, including Texas, have banned some of its chemicals, prompting sellers to turn to the Internet, where it is marketed as incense or potpourri. In some states, Spice is sold at bars, smoke shops and convenience stores. The packets often say the ingredients are not for human consumption and are for aromatherapy.
Service members preferred the drug because until recently there was no way to detect it with urine tests. A test was developed after the Drug Enforcement Administration put a one-year emergency ban on five chemicals in the drug.
Lt. Commander Donald Hurst, a fourth-year psychiatry resident at San Diego’s Naval Medical Center, said the hospital is believed to have seen more cases than any other health facility in the country. He said there are countless questions that still need answering, including the designer drug’s effects on people with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries.
What research has confirmed, he said, is: “These are not drugs to mess with.”