UNCW students smoke spice… for the last time

Kiersten Wiles | Contributing Writer

“I smoked a lot of it, I sat there for awhile and I was like, ‘All right, this is cool,’ and I then got up and like walked around, and my eyes started to burn like hell.”


That’s what happened when a recent UNCW graduate smoked spice for his second and last time. The student wasn’t looking for pain, just a legal way to relax and get high.


Spice is a synthetic drug that is likened to marijuana, but is still legal in some states. It is partly made of plant material, but mainly of chemicals that cause similar effects to pot.


The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) made the five chemicals that make up spice illegal in November, 2010, and North Carolina banned them the following June.


On July 19, Northern Lights Smoke Shop on Market Street was busted for having 1400 packets of spice worth $30,000. No arrests have been made and the shop has yet to close, but charges are still pending.


“Well, it’s still legal, so we’re not going to close down,” said an employee at Northern Lights after initially refusing comment. The manager declined to comment.


The Wilmington Police Department (WPD) and the DEA seem to differ. The investigation with Northern Lights is still on-going, according to WPD spokesman Kevin Smith.


There were five or six smoke shops that sold spice in the Wilmington community, according to Smith. The WPD didn’t close down any particular shop, but Smith suspects the drop in spice revenue forced these shops to shut down.


Northern Lights is the only spice-selling shop left in Wilmington.


The UNCW graduate mentioned above still knows of places that sell spice. His name is kept confidential to protect his privacy.


“Most of the head shops that I’m familiar with have or do continue to still sell spice,” he said.


By the books, spice is not specifically illegal; the chemicals that make it up are. Many spice dealers have changed the chemical makeup of the drug ever so slightly, believing it will change the legality of the product. However, the DEA follows these changes and bans them as well.


Some UNCW students that have smoked spice shared their experiences, but wished to remain anonymous to protect their privacy. One, a rising senior, smoked spice the summer of 2010 while at home. He smoked it in place of marijuana, his usual habit, in order to avoid trouble with his parents.


“I felt like if my parents caught me with it, there would be less repercussions than with actual herb,” he said.


As a user of marijuana, the legality of spice did not concern him, but effects from the drug did.


“I stopped before it became illegal, actually,” he said. “I was starting to notice psychiatric effects, like I was depressed a lot more, I was anxious, I was like really on edge, and kind of, like, more irritated, and was not in a good state mentally.”


Dr. Rebecca Caldwell, director of substance abuse and violence prevention at Crossroads, has found that spice is more intense and can be dangerous.


“Nationally there were some cases where people had large reactions, like seizures, or they were really out of it, or a lot of drugs that are man-made or chemically new or whatever tend to get people’s body temperatures way up and then that person gets into a medical crisis,” said Caldwell.


While there are no reports of that happening at UNCW, Captain Chris Padgett of UNCW Police wants the community to remember that you never know with spice.


“It’s [not] something that if you use it, you won’t get hurt. People assume they can experiment with stuff and not get addicted to stuff, but really they’re gambling with their life. Most of the time you can’t control it, it’ll end up controlling you,” said Padgett.


A UNCW student who was unaware that spice was illegal until this interview had a bad experience with the drug, noting that it made her feel fuzzy and have her a bad headache. Even after that, she still thought spice should be legal, and was actually high on marijuana during the interview.


“I don’t understand why it’s illegal now… What’s the question again? I don’t think it should be illegal because it was made for the purpose of getting high. People should be able to come home and smoke a little bit as long as they’re responsible.”


Whether or not someone does illegal substances, Dr. Caldwell said Crossroads is open for anyone who wants non-judgmental education.


“We’re really committed to a really positive, non-judgmental approach to alcohol and drugs, with everybody,” Caldwell said. “We want people to have accurate information. We want people to think, ‘Is what I’m doing working for me?'”


Crossroads is located in DePaulo Hall on the second floor.