War on Spice: The Unsuitable Tactics

On dangers of Spice and the government’s unsuccessful war against it.

“The panic surrounding Spice is understandable, but largely unhelpful… We need to rethink our approach to harmful drug use, to ensure those most at risk are supported and not put in more danger.”

The UK has seen a surge in people using the synthetic cannabinoid Spice, a novel psychoactive substance (NPS) that is used as an alternative to natural cannabis. Spice, along with many other NPSs, was made illegal following the introduction of the Psychoactive Substances Bill in 2016. However, rather than removing Spice from the market, the bill has simply pushed it underground, where it has become more potent, more variable, and more dangerous.

The drug, which was previously available to buy and smoke legally, is popular due to its chemical make-up which mimics the active chemical compound in marijuana – tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. However, because synthetic cannabinoids are often much stronger than marijuana, the effects – good and bad – can be much more potent than those from natural cannabis. Unlike cannabis though, Spice and other synthetic cannabinoids have a high potential for abuse and addiction, and also come with intense withdrawal symptoms. Some users have even reported that addiction to Spice is harder to kick than addiction to other drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. The negative effects of the drug have led to what some reports have been calling an ‘epidemic’. Since the Manchester police reported attending 58 incidents over the span of one weekend earlier this month, the emergency services across the country have opened up about being under increased pressure due to incidences relating to the drug.

The panic surrounding Spice is understandable, but largely unhelpful. Spice is used by a number of different groups across society, however the drug is most commonly used by vulnerable populations, such as homeless youths and prisoners. Demonising users will not relieve the problems that often lead them to relying on drugs like Spice. Solutions to the problems associated with Spice have ranged from developing an antidote for those who have overdosed on Spice, like Naloxone does for heroin, to legalising marijuana use to prevent people from using Spice as an alternative.

Evidence has shown time and time again that the war on drugs has been unsuccessful, yet our government continue to dedicate time, money and resources into criminalising users, rather than looking at relieving the problems that lead people to drug abuse. Now that the drug market is changing and NPS use is increasing, we need to rethink our approach to harmful drug use, to ensure those most at risk are supported and not put in more danger.

[Hannah Burke – @hannahcburke_]

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