Legal alternatives to marijuana raising questions

On Nov. 2, California voters will head to the polls to cast their votes on a number of propositions as well as a new governor. Among the propositions on the ballot is the controversial Prop 19 that, with a "yes" vote, will legalize marijuana under California law and permit local governments to regulate and tax commercial production, distribution, and sale of marijuana.

But while Californians have been debating whether or not marijuana should be legal or not, there are current legal drugs on the market that have a more detrimental effect on the body than the longest long term effect of marijuana ever will.

One of these drugs that has just recently started to become popular goes by the name "Spice," or "K-2." It's a synthetic cannabis that when smoked produces a high in most people similar to the experience of smoking marijuana.

Although the drug offers the same high and is undetectable to drug tests, the fact that it is manufactured and constructed with numerous chemical components makes it a potentially dangerous substance, one that can give you an unpredictable high.

Dr. Allan Frankel, founder of Green Bridge Medical center, a cannabis physician office in Marina Del Rey, doesn't recommend the use of substances like Spice. He said that, "there is no quality control in something like that."

Frankel added that "cannabis is a natural remedy that's been used in medicine for 700 years, it's safe and predictable.

Spice, which is marketed and sold as "herbal incense," is legal in the United States but is catching the eyes of doctors across the country, most recently in early March of this year when several Georgia teenagers spent the night in a Roswell hospital after smoking it. One of the teenagers was treated for swelling of the brain.

The drug was made illegal in European countries including Germany, France, Poland and the U.K. after German scientists concluded research that determined Spice was composed of several synthetic cannabinoids which, when combined, create the same effect as smoking marijuana.

However, the side effects are more intense than those of marijuana and can include anxiety attacks, nausea, hallucinations, and chemical dependency.

Another legal substance that can be found just as easily as Spice, if not more so, is called "Salvia Divinorum," or simply, "Salvia."

Salvia is a substance that when smoked in high dosages creates a brief but very extreme high of about 15 minutes in duration that can lead to the complete loss of control over mind and body.

Such side effects can include the feeling of moving through space, unifying with an object and in some cases the experience of multiple realities and out of body experiences very similar to the effects of LSD.  Additionally, use of Salvia can induce irritability, anxiety, and sleep disorders.

Little is known about the drug at this point, but early research has demonstrated that high dosages can cause long-term brain damage and can permanently impair function of balance, coordination and muscle control.

The physical effects of these drug "cocktails" is scary enough, but for parents of children in the vulnerable pre-teen and teenage groups, it is especially worrisome that Salvia can be purchased at any local smoke shop like the many you see at Venice beach.

One employee at the "Art of Venice" smoke shop, who requested to remain anonymous, explained that prices can range anywhere from ten to sixty dollars depending on potency and quantity.

If Prop 19 passes on Nov.2, California will become the first state to completely legalize marijuana.