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'Synthetic' marijuana is problem for US military

December 30, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
U.S. troops are increasingly using an easy-to-get herbal substance called "Spice," which mimics the effects of marijuana, and officials are alarmed.

Military authorities have launched an aggressive testing program this year, leading to the investigation of more than 1,100 suspected users, according to military figures.

So-called "synthetic" marijuana is readily available on the Internet and has gained popularity in recent years. Its use among troops and sailors has raised concerns among the Pentagon brass.

"You can just imagine the work that we do in a military environment," said Mark Ridley, deputy director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, adding, "you need to be in your right mind when you do a job. That's why the Navy has always taken a zero tolerance policy toward drugs."

This year, 700 Marines and sailors were investigated for Spice. This number has surged from only 29 last year. Those found guilty of using Spice are kicked out, although the Navy does not track the overall number of dismissals.

The Air Force has punished 497 airmen so far this year, compared to last year's 380, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.

The Army does not track Spice investigations but says it has medically treated 119 soldiers for the synthetic drug in total.

Military officials emphasize those caught represent a tiny fraction of all service members and note none was in a leadership position or believed high while on duty.

Spice is made up of exotic plants from Asia like Blue Lotus and Bay Bean. Their leaves are coated with chemicals that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, but are five to 200 times more potent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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