Most Interesting Drug Stories Of The Year

2010 has passed and you are probably, like me, struggling to write or type “11” at the end of the year.  We saw a lot of interesting things happen in 2010 when it comes to drug-related news.  In some cases use took off and in some cases it dropped; drugs were banned, celebrities went in and out of rehab, drawing attention to certain kinds of drug abuse, and marijuana legalization was voted on across the US.  What in your opinion were the most interesting drug-related stories of the year?

Here are a few of ours:

January – Drug Testing the Center of Debate in Kansas

Many states are suffering due to the recession, and looking for places to cut their budgets.  One particularly controversial idea was to drug test welfare recipients to determine their eligibility for benefits.  Missouri, Kansas, and more recently, Florida, are still making headlines on this issue in one way or another.  So far no such bill has passed but the issue looks like it will be taken up again by newly elected Florida Governor Rick Scott.

The Olympics tend to always be a time when drug use and drug testing are discussed.

The Olympics

February – The Olympics

Time flies, ski jumpers do too.  It seems like just yesterday I was trudging home in the cold to watch the Olympics in Vancouver.  This story is included because the Olympics always brings up issues of doping and drug testing – Winter Olympians in particular seem to get in trouble with marijuana (Ross Ross Rebaglti, Bode Miller).

March – U.S. the Illegal Drug Capital of the World

“Hooray.”  The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) declared the United States the largest market for illegal drugs in the world.

Cigarette Companies Still Not Playing By The Rules

Although the actual event discussed in this story happened in 2008, it was a study in 2010 that made it a “story.”  This study suggested that a series of conventionally feminine Camel ads influenced as many as 174,000 underage girls to start smoking.  The makers of Camel cigarettes pushed back and said they followed restrictions on cigarette marketing from 1998.  As to whether that’s true, you be the judge.

May – Lindsay Lohan, Generally

It’s hard to find just one link for this story.  Celebrity drug gossip is not one of my favorite topics, but Lindsay Lohan has provided very public evidence all year of how scary and messy dealing with drug/alcohol problems can be.

June/July – Washington Fights OxyContin Prescription Fraud

You know how people (at least in movies) add a few extra zeros to a check?  This is what some people have done with their painkiller prescriptions.  To combat this the state of Washington came out with new, harder to tamper with prescription paper.  It’s a major hurdle, and a solution we’ll definitely check in on later to see how well it worked.

Alcohol and drug abuse rose among teen girls according to a study from this year.


Alcohol & Drug Abuse Rises Among Teen Girls

A new study xanaxonlinebuy indicated that “self-medication” among teen girls has increased at a greater pace than it has among teen boys.  Released by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the MetLife Foundation, it showed that about 70 percent of girls agreed that “using drugs helps kids deal with problems at home.”

August – Adderall – Upper, Downer, Leveler?

August kicked off for us with a bizarrely misleading statement of Michael Lohan’s, in which while denying his daughter had a methamphetamine problem pointed to Adderall as a “methamphetamine base.” While somewhat true, chemistry doesn’t really “work” that way.  In other words, while two chemicals can be extremely similar, that 1% difference between the two can create extremely disparate effects.  Gas is a “base” for napalm, but obviously we don’t all drive around in fireballs.

However, Adderall when used without a prescription DOES have undesirable effects.  It seems to “level out” the symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), such as hyperactivity, while fostering said symptoms in those without ADD.  It’s an interesting issue and was brought up in the case of Ms. Lohan by a doctor who suggested that in fact, when ADD is misdiagnosed, the use of Adderall can cause many problems and cocaine-like highs.  It is, after all, more or less like speed, and you can home drug test for it for good reason.  And with that, we end our recap coverage of Ms. Lohan and her drug issues.

Four Loko got the axe this year as it was said to cause hospitalizations and raised concerns among parents and school administrators.

Four Loko

October – Loco for Four Loko

This fall Four Loko attracted a lot of attention, enough to get it swiftly taken off the market by the FDA.  We covered both the initial furor and the controversial ban.

November – Bye, Bye Spice – For Now

We covered Spice and whether it could be drug tested for, and then provided coverage on what Spice is, really.  The FDA and DEA put an emergency ban on the sale of Spice/k2 at the end of the year, however, so that it could be studied to see if its use was/is safe.

December – More Teens Smoke Pot Than Cigarettes

Rounding out the year, the NIDA put out a study that showed that there are more 12th graders that smoke pot than there are 12th graders that smoke cigarettes.  There are many possible explanations for this result – the general popularity of cigarettes is decreasing, plus at their age neither pot nor cigarettes can be purchased legally, so it depends on what you can buy from friends.  In such a situation it’s not hard to imagine that more 12th graders smoke pot than cigarettes.

Whew!  That about wraps it up for us.  What was your favorite or least favorite drug related story of the year?  Let us know too what you would like to see in the coming year.  And finally, have a Happy New Year!


What Is Spice? The Ultimate Guide

(We recently featured an article entitled “Spice: What Is It, And Can It Be Tested?” on our blog. One of our readers pointed out something we kind of overlooked – what is spice?? So we endeavored to answer that question below by providing what we hope will become the ultimate guide to Spice.)

What is Spice?

What is spice? Everybody is trying to figure this out as awareness of this new substance spreads into pop culture, high schools, and even gas stations near you.

Spice is slang for synthetic cannabis. It was once an actual brand but has become shorthand for a wide variety of similar products. It’s a mixture of herbs that have had synthetic cannabinoids sprayed on them. One of these cannabinoids is called JWH-018 and was invented in a lab to help with pain. The point of experimenting with cannabinoids was to eliminate the effects of cannabinoids that create a “high” while maintaining the pain relief effects. With JWH-018, this did not happen – actually JWH-018 is very potent, more potent than many forms of marijuana.

One of the reasons Spice has taken off in popularity is that JWH-018 can be made easily by combining a few commercial products. Its first non-lab use was in Asia, where it became an aid for plant growth. Much of the Spice you see in the United States still comes from manufacturers in Asia. Its purpose in the United States is quite different though – it is smoked by folks for a high that is still legal federally and in most states.

Spice is marketed in the U.S. as “incense.” This is to prevent it from having to adhere to regulations were it labeled a medicine or “smokable product.” It usually comes in a little pouch. The ingredients listed on the pouches do not always reflect what’s actually in the pouch.

Typically Spice is smoked as marijuana would be. It has many, many names and brands, among them: Algerian Blend, Genie, k2, Smoke, Chill X, Sense, Yucatan Fire, Spice Diamond, Spice Silver, Spice Gold.

Where can it be purchased?

Spice is purchased at head shops, gas stations, etc., as it is legal in most states.  There’s also a thriving online industry for Spice and other synthetic cannabis products.

What does it do?

Spice that contains JWH-018 acts in the brain the same way that marijuana does. It binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. It blocks the action of these two cannabinoid receptors. They are most common in the parts of the brain that have the most to do with memory, like the hippocampus.

How does it work?

Spice that contains JWH-018 acts in the brain the same way that marijuana does. It binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. It blocks the action of these two cannabinoid receptors. They are most common in the parts of the brain that have the most to do with memory, like the hippocampus.

Is it legal?

Is it largely legal in the United States, but it is illegal in many European countries.

Where is it illegal?

(All of this information is as of October 27, 2010; there may be other cities, localities, countries and states that have banned synthetic cannabis which have escaped our attention)

Countries where it is illegal: Austria, Germany, France, Ireland, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, Chile, South Korea, Japan.

States in the US where it is illegal: Kansas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oregon, Michigan.

States in the US where it is about to be illegal: Illinois.

States where the legal status of synthetic cannabis is under discussion: New York, New Jersey, Florida, Indiana, Ohio.

What are the risks?

In most states, Spice is still legal, so you won’t get in trouble for possessing it. The major risk is that there have been no major tests done about synthetic cannabinoids’ effect on the human body. Even the inventor of JWH-018, John W. Huffman, PhD, says that because they’ve never been tested using them recreationally is like “Russian Roulette.” Although he certainly does not endorse marijuana use he goes so far as to recommend, somewhat hypothetically, smoking marijuana as preferable to smoking synthetic cannabis, since at least it has been studied. WebMD points out that they share a chemical structure with some carcinogens, and a published study shows that when JWH-018 enters the body it is metabolized into carcinogens (see Vice magazine).

Spice is not regulated either – as mentioned above, what’s on the label may not be what’s in the bag (and the reason Spice did not attract attention for so long is that in fact the synthetic cannabinoids producing the psychoactive affects were NOT on the label). Some doctors believe that Spice related cases they have seen may stem from additional contaminants in the product(s). These contaminants have led to effects that are reminiscent not of a marijuana-like drug, but a stimulant.

Indeed, the side effects are not always simply a high feeling. Vomiting, increased heart rate, hallucinations, and increased anxiety can occur. Some people have even been hospitalized. And other typical drug drawbacks can occur too – withdrawal, cravings, a hangover, and even addiction has been documented.

What are the signs that someone is using synthetic cannabis?

Unlike marijuana, synthetic cannabis does not have a signature smell. The high is relatively short (30 minutes or so) and generally shorter than a high from marijuana. So it is less likely you will catch someone “acting high” when they are using the drug. However, this may vary depending on the potency of the product consumed. The red-eyed look of someone high on marijuana can also be seen in someone high on Spice, as can the general slowness and subdued behavior. In terms “not currently high” symptoms and signs of continued use and/or dependency, symptoms will be similar to marijuana use – less interest in schoolwork or extracurricular activities, detachment, lethargy.

The most common method of using spice is smoking it in joint form. If you are a parent, it is worth noting if rolling papers and rollers suddenly appear. Other marijuana paraphernalia (such as glassware, bongs, etc.) should be looked out for as well. You might also look for eyedrops which are used to mask the bloodshot effect that both Spice and marijuana can have on the eyes.

Dr. Scalzo, who is studying cases in which use of Spice has led to emergency room visits, tells parents to be on the lookout for agitation, pale appearance, and confusion and anxiety in teens that may be the result of hallucinations. Other signs of Spice’s adverse effects include paleness and increased heartbeat and blood pressure. (For the full article on Dr. Scalzo please visit Science Daily).

What can parents do?

Many state and local communities are discussing the issue of synthetic cannabis. Some cities have endeavored to create ordinances banning its use. If you are interested in stopping the sale of synthetic cannabis, the best thing to do is probably to contact your local and state representatives and bring the issue to their attention.

Can I drug test my child?

The answer is sort of yes and no. Unfortunately at the moment no home drug test is available to test for the synthetic compounds in Spice and related products. However, labs have developed on-site technology to test for a few (if not all) of the synthetic cannabinoids in Spice. Redwood Toxicology is the first lab to do so. Here is what you need to know about their detection of synthetic cannabis in urine:

  • The metabolites detected are JWH-018 and JWH-073. Other metabolites that may be active in synthetic cannabis will not be detected by this test (for example, HU-210, a synthetic cannabinoid discovered in Spice Gold).
  • JWH-018 and JWH-073 were chosen for detection because they are at this time the most common: between the two, they are the active ingredients in 27 different Spice type mixtures.
  • JWH-018 and JWH-073 can be detected in urine (depending on how much was used) for up to 72 hours after last use.

One important thing to remember is that if you suspect your child is using Spice, testing them with a marijuana drug test is useless. Chemically, synthetic cannabis is not similar to marijuana, and it will not show up as positive for marijuana on a drug test.

List of Links:

There are a lot of great sources on Spice and Spice-like products out there. Here is a selection of resources for those interested in learning more about Spice:

Joseph Brownstein for ABC News: “K2 Giving People Another Dangerous Way to Get High”

Mary Carmichael for Newsweek: “Fake-Pot Panic”

David Kroll: “Is DEA about to act of K2 Spice synthetic marijuana products?”

David Kroll: “What’s the buzz?: Synthetic marijuana, K2, Spice, JWH-018”

Andrew Moseman for Discover Magazine: “Legal, Synthetic Marijuana Pleases Pot-Heads, Upsets State Governments”

Peter Rugg for The Pitch: “Product Review: Will K2 Synthetic Marijuana Get You High?” Spice Product Resources

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction: “Synthetic Cannabinoids and ‘Spice’”

Have a source you’d like to add to the list, or a question you’d like us to answer?  Please send an email to the author, Robyn, at robyn at and she’ll do the best to answer your question.  Thanks for reading what we hope will become the Ultimate Guide to Spice!

Photo by Schorle

10 Scary Facts About Cocaine

This is part of a new drug series, loosely framed around this time of the year (Halloween). In honor of Halloween, we’re going to scare you – with some very real facts about drugs. First up – facts about cocaine.

1. Sharing straws used to snort cocaine can spread blood diseases like Hepatitis C.

Cocaine can be found on a home drug test.

Cocaine - a scary substance all year round.

2. Mixture of cocaine with heroin creates one of the deadliest forms of cocaine, a speedball.

3. Prolonged cocaine can cause damage to the nose, to the point where abusers get plastic surgery to fix damage.

4. Cocaine, especially crack cocaine, often contains adulterants, some of which can be highly toxic.

5. In the first hour after cocaine use, the user’s heart attack risk is almost 24 times greater.

6. Cocaine can be extremely addictive, and very hard to quit, so much so that they are developing a vaccine so that people cannot feel its effects.

7. According to a “rational scale to assess the harm of drugs potential misuse,” cocaine is second only to heroin (and not by much) in its possible danger in terms of dependence and physical harm.

8. Simple possession of crack cocaine will trigger a mandatory sentence: 5 grams of crack will trigger a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence.

9. Extended cocaine use can reduce one’s sense of smell. This is called anosmia.

10. Cocaine can lead to sudden death, particularly if you have a preexisting heart condition and combine its use with alcohol and/or cigarettes.

Stay clean!  For more info, please see our home drug test page.

Intro to Contingency Management / Motivational Incentives

What is Contingency Management?

Treatment incorporating drug test kits is an important way to battle drug addiction.

Official National Institutes of Health Poster

Contingency Management (CM) is a program that is used in substance abuse treatment programs. It has its roots in behaviorism. The idea behind contingency management is that behavior is likely to continue if it is reinforced. In the context of substance abuse, contingency management provides either positive reinforcement based on a behavior or negative reinforcement.

One of the most important differences between contingency management programs and non-contingency management programs is the frequency of reinforcement. Enrollees in a program are tested a few times a week with an onsite urine drug test (exactly the same kind of test as our home drug test). If they pass the test they receive a reward, perhaps a voucher to a retail store, for example. Points, prizes, and cash can also be rewards.

This is different from programs that treat may treat drug addiction simply as a disease, or utilize other methodologies in connection with medical treatment. As a supplement to therapy, Contingency Management has been shown to make the entire program more successful.

Who Supports Contingency Management?

Contingency Management is supported and promoted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and SAHMSA (Substance Abuse and Mental modafinilsmart Health Services Administration). The NIDA created a program to evaluate contingency management called “Motivational Incentives for Enhanced Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR).” MIEDAR found in a study of 800 patients that at all junctures treatment combined with Contingency Management was more successful than treatment without it. 49% of the patients receiving incentives compared with 33% of the treatment as usual patients were retained at 12 weeks.

How Do You Do Contingency Management?

The approved method of contingency management is the “fishbowl method.” In this method after submitting a drug-free urine test the patient draws a slip of paper on which something is written. They then exchange it for a prize that corresponds to what is written on the paper. This method is used with some frequency but is not generally administered every day. It needs to be administered regularly and systematically.

Is Contingency Management The Answer?

Fighting addiction is a difficult process and there seems to be no one correct answer. Research continues nonetheless and contingency management is one product of the past 30 years of research. We’ll look more in-depth into this and other rehabilitation methods later on in this series.

Image at Top by Mila Zinkova

Marijuana, the Gateway Drug? Study Suggests Stress And Employment Status Matter More

It’s commonly thought that marijuana is a “gateway drug” – that if a teen starts smoking marijuana, they will be more likely to use other illicit drugs.  A new study suggests this may not be so, and other factors are more responsible for the transition to other illegal drugs.

The study was conducted by sociologists from the University of New Hampshire on a little over 1200 teens from the Miami-Dade public school system.  They found that teens who smoked pot and later moved onto other illegal drugs did so less from a “gateway effect” and more because of  “life factors such as employment status and stress” (fromPhysOrg.Com).

Heroin, which can be home drug tested for

Another look at the drug in the image above: Heroin

The study suggests that unemployment, stress, and family situations are greater predictors of whether someone will smoke marijuana AND use other illegal drugs.  These factors are not much of a surprise, really, if you think of drug use as a form of escapism.

Education seems to play a role too.  The lack thereof may not cause the problem, but drug use and an incomplete education occur together.  Race was a predictor as well – non-Hispanic whites were the most likely to move onto other drugs, while Hispanics and then African-Americans were the next most likely groups to do so.

All these factors aside, the study does not entirely count out marijuana’s “gateway” effect – they note that the effect may exist during the teenage years, and fade away by the age of 21.  Perhaps not totally reassuring to parents of teens.

There are other studies (such as this one) that suggest marijuana is a gateway drug, chemically, to other drugs, such as heroin.  Science is always a lively back and forth.  And it is important to highlight two of the major factors here, unemployment and stress.

Americans certainly aren’t strangers to unemployment these days.  If your teen seems stressed and/or unemployed, as a parent be sure to be sensitive to this.  If you are worried about substance abuse, you can always use a home drug test to check and test for several drugs at once.  As the article points out, drugs can be a sort of self-perpetuating problem – if you are busted for illegal use, the stress factors that contribute to drug use increase, getting a job becomes harder, etc.  And there is no stress that’s quite as stressful as drug addiction.

Image of marijuana and heroin above by Home Health Testing.

Spice: What Is It, And Can It Be Tested?

You may have heard of the newest drug phenomenon, known variously as “spice” or K2.  Sometimes called “Genie,” this drug has similar effects as marijuana, but unlike marijuana, it is (in most states) legal.

Spice, a type of synthetic cannabis you cannot home drug test for, yet.

Spice works like marijuana. A chemical in the spice mimics the activity THC has in the brain.  This results in a marijuana like high, with the same symptoms.  The potency of the drug varies across brand.

Some states have banned the drug, including Iowa.  Kansas and Missouri are trying to categorize spice with marijuana in terms of legality and involved fines (see this CBS news report for more).

What do you need to know?  Well, if you are concerned that someone is using spice, you cannot at the moment buy a home drug test for it.  There’s no doubt new technologies will develop in the next few years to test for it, but at the moment no hair, saliva, or urine home drug test can detect it.

However, the Redwood Toxicology lab did just recently come out with a urine-based lab test for it.  While not as convenient as a home test, it is the only current method of detecting spice use.  To learn more call 1-800-255-2159 or visit their website (Redwood Toxicology) to learn more about how it works.  We’ll be sure to keep you in the loop as far as how soon the test will be available on the instant drug test market, and if you have any questions, let us know!

Picture by Schorle via Wikipedia.