LAS VEGAS -- More than a year ago, synthetic marijuana or Spice was outlawed in Nevada. But instead of restricting the product all together, regulators enacted the ban piecemeal. That has unintentionally left Spice on the shelves in nearly every smoke shop in town.
A recent survey found that one in nine high school seniors admit to using Spice in the last year. Spice is cheap, easy to get, and -- in many cases -- technically legal.
Not far from Foothill High School, friends and family light the darkness to honor former student Christopher Wrath. He was a son, uncle and brother who's young life was cut short last month. He was just shy of his 21st birthday.
"It breaks my heart, it's like my other half is gone," Chris's brother Wayne Wrath said.
On the morning of Jan. 3, Chris' brother Wayne awakened to a knock at the door. A maintenance man found Chris near the pool of their apartment complex dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"I know he loved life and he wanted to live. And he did not want this to happen. Spice made him do this. I know that for a fact," Wrath said.
According to him, in the weeks before Chris' passing, his use of Spice or synthetic marijuana caused him to lose touch with reality. Chris came to believe he was a paraplegic trapped alone in a white room and that his real life was merely an illusion.
"This only happened when he would smoke the stuff. When he was normal he'd be like 'oh Wayne, I know this is not real. I don't know why I think that stuff but when I smoke this stuff it's like it's real to me.'"
Suicidal and homicidal thoughts, hallucinations, and other psychotic events are just some of the adverse reactions reported from Spice. That's why state regulators to banned the substance.
Yet despite the law, passed more than year ago, the I-Team found Spice in smoke shops throughout the valley.
"I suppose technically it's legal and that's the problem," said UNLV chemistry professor Dr. Bryan Spangelo.
He explains hat instead of banning Spice as a product, the state pharmacy board outlawed five compounds routinely found in Spice. That move encouraged manufacturers to simply change the formula. While most packaging doesn't say what's in the product, several do say what isn't in the product. Sexy Monkey, Kush and Flying High, for example, claim to be 100% legal blends.
"The people that buy these don't' know which one is being added, they don't know how much is being added, they don't even know if there are multiple drugs being added at the same time," Spangelo said. He added that banning the five compounds is just the tip of the ice berg.
Though the possession or sale of some synthetic marijuana is a felony, enforcement requires testing which is often a slow process. Further complicating matters, manufacturers market Spice as potpourri or incense and claim it's not for human consumption.
"It's complete crap," said Detective Ailee Burnett who is an undercover detective with Metro's Narcotics Detail.
"They call it incense because they try to circumvent the law. They cannot say it is for human consumption because obviously it is to get somebody high. The only reason to consume it is to get a high from it," she said.
"That was his receipt," Wrath said. Among his brother's personal effects, police found two pipes, and an open container of Spice. Though, Wrath died from a gunshot wound, Wayne has no doubt about why he pulled the trigger.
"I absolutely know, 100 percent in my heart, that Spice altered my brother's mind to where he took his own life. Get it out of the stores, get it off the street."
The state pharmacy board is scheduled to consider banning another six compounds commonly found in Spice. But Dr. Spangelo points out there are literally hundreds of others available.
Thursday, August 21 2014 2:32 PM EDT2014-08-21 18:32:06 GMT
Former Nevada lawmaker Steven Brooks waived his right to a preliminary hearing during a court appearance Thursday morning. Brooks has agreed to plead guilty to resisting arrest with a deadly weapon and unlawful possession of a firearm.More>>
Former Nevada lawmaker Steven Brooks waived his right to a preliminary hearing during a court appearance Thursday morning. Brooks has agreed to plead guilty to resisting arrest with a deadly weapon and unlawful possession of a firearm. More>>