Teen ‘Spice’ abuse a growing problem in Utah

Posted at 6:37 PM, Dec 19, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY – A new government report confirms that abuse of Spice, also known as K-2, is a growing problem across the country. Local doctors say it’s one they’re seeing in Utah as well.

The report, put out by the Drug Abuse Awareness Network, says 11,406 people went to ERs across the country in 2010 with symptoms related to synthetic marijuana use. A closer look revealed almost half of those were teens.

“It’ll ruin your life,” says 22-year-old Staci Bickerstaff.

She started using “Spice” when she was 18. Four years later she’s in a recovery program and says smoking the drug was one of the biggest mistakes of her life.

“My bones weren't healing,” says Bickerstaff. “It ruined my hair, it ruined my teeth, it ruined my skin, it ruined all of my relationships.”

Like many young adults, Bickerstaff turned to the synthetic substance as a substitute for marijuana. Bickerstaff says the only similarities are the temporary high.

“You can hallucinate, you get sick, especially trying to come off of it," says Bickerstaff. “I had the worst withdrawals, comparable to heroin withdrawals really.”

Doctors say teens don’t realize what they’re getting into.

“The synthetic cannabis-like chemicals will stimulate areas in the brain and cause more anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations,” says Sean Ponce, a South Jordan doctor specializing in drug addiction. “More psychotic symptoms than would regular marijuana.”

Drug counselors say the biggest danger with the drug is the variations. Manufacturers alter the recipe trying to get around the law, but that just makes the affects more unpredictable.

““You don’t really know what the reaction’s going to be for you, physically,” says Volunteers of America Residential Program Director Andrew Johnston. “Especially after you stop using it.”

Johnston says symptoms of spice abuse include extreme mood swings, interrupted sleeping patterns and changes in social behavior.

Parents can find information on talking to teens about drug abuse and information about treatment programs at