WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Seven midshipmen were expelled from the U.S. Naval Academy for using or having a banned marijuana-like substance known as “spice,” officials said.
The male midshipmen, who were juniors and sophomores, “have been separated from the Naval Academy for violating the Navy’s illicit substance abuse policies,” as of last Thursday, said Naval Academy spokesman Joe Carpenter in a statement issued on Monday.
“Spice,” also commonly branded K2 and known as a synthetic marijuana product, is typically marketed as incense and sold online and at convenience stores for $30 to $40 for a three-gram bag, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
It is considered a banned substance by the Departments of Defense and Navy, Carpenter’s statement said.
Officials at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. learned about the allegations during the fall semester and consider the investigation to be ongoing, the statement said.
The school was not releasing any other details.
Use of “spice” and other similarly branded herb mixes has been on the rise among teens and young adults in the last few years.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the smokable herbal blends “consist of plant material that has been coated with research chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.”
Despite label warnings against consumption, smoking K2, “spice” and other brands has become a popular way to get high and pass drug screens.
With the advent of synthetic marijuana products, calls to poison control centers have spiked with users reporting agitation, anxiety, hypertension, vomiting and in some cases severe paranoia and hallucinations.
U.S. poison centers have fielded more than 3,000 calls as a result of synthetic marijuana use in 2010 and thus far in 2011, up from just 13 calls in 2009.
Although many states have introduced bans against the substances or the chemical compounds, new variations of the smokable herb and chemical blend continue to emerge, said Anthony Scalzo, director of toxicology at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis.
Scalzo said medical professionals do not know the full extent to which the chemical compounds sprayed on the plant blends affect the brain’s emotions, thought processes and movements.
Reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Greg Mccune