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Legal Drug Raises Concerns

A product being sold as incense on Molokai is causing concern, especially for its possible abuse among students and teens who are reportedly smoking it. Known as Spice, K2, herbal incense and other names, the substance, legal in Hawaii, is classified as synthetic cannabis and is chemically blended with herbs. 

A Molokai High School teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed concern about the drug, saying students are using the substance. 

“Every parent needs to be aware of it,” the teacher said. “I would like to see this get out before it becomes an endemic.” 

Spice and related substances have been known to produce paranoia, panic attacks, giddiness, seizures, hallucinations and vomiting, along with increased blood pressure and heart rate, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Across the U.S., the number of calls to poison control centers related to the drug has doubled in the past year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. 

Ka`ili Adachi, owner of The Tobacco Shack, which offers tobacco products and accessories in Kaunakakai, said she sells Spice. She said people need to research the product before jumping to conclusions, and attributes possible harmful side effects of the substance to its misuse, likening it to those who abuse spray paint by inhaling it. 

Describing Spice as “herbal incense,” Adachi said it is intended to be used in a room as incense, and its smoke has relaxing properties. It does not contain THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, and its packaged is labeled “not for human consumption,” she added. 

While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers the drug a “hazard to the public safety,” they acknowledge that it is abuse of the drug that has caused such concern.

Adachi said it’s sold “everywhere in the state,” and is a normal offering in tobacco and head shops. Adachi has been carrying the product for only about two months, she said. 

“It was a requested item so it would be dumb not to bring it in…the popularity is growing,” she said.

Possible Student Use

The anonymous MHS teacher noted “a couple students who did really well last semester and are now struggling this semester,” attributing it to use of the drug. 

The same age regulations for tobacco apply for the purchase of Spice – age 18 minimum.

“How it’s getting into schools, I’m not sure,” Adachi said. “It means that someone is buying illegally for minors, and that’s the consumer’s responsibility, not mine.”

MHS Principal Stan Hao said the school hasn’t had any incidences of the drug to his knowledge, but said he’s aware of the substance and the school is already taking steps to minimize its harm. Drug educator Gary Shimabukuro will be speaking with students in an assembly on Thursday, addressing drugs being used around the world as “legal highs.” 

Hao said if Spice or similar drugs are found on campus, they will be dealt with as contraband. 

If students are “caught in the act,” disciplinary measures will be taken, he said, because any type of smoking is illegal on campus. Hao added that he has been in contact with police officers about its potential use.

Detective Eugene Santiago of the Molokai Police Department said patrol personnel haven’t yet encountered the substance on Molokai. 

National Concern

Though Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids are legal in the State of Hawaii, they have been banned in at least 18 states and several countries. In 2011, the DEA temporarily placed five synthetic cannabinoids under the Controlled Substances Act Schedule 1, indicating a high potential for abuse. The action was found “necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety,” according to the DEA. 

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported that in an annual survey of eighth, 10th, and 12th-graders conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2011 results showed that 11.4 percent of 12th-graders reported use of Spice in the past year. 

“K2 and Spice are dangerous drugs that can cause serious harm,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy, in a December, 2011 press release. “We will continue to work with the public health and safety community to respond to this emerging threat but in the meantime, parents must take action.  Parents are the most powerful force in the lives of young people and we ask that all of them talk to their teens today about the serious consequences of using marijuana, K2, or spice.”

A public discussion of current drug trends, including Spice, will be held by Gary Shimabukuro this Thursday, Feb. 16, at UH Maui College, Molokai, room 107, from 10 a.m. to noon.