Synthetic 'Spice' Wreaking Havoc Across Russia

By McCarton Ackerman 10/22/14

Use of the popular synthetic weed has spread across the globe, causing the same problems overseas as it does in the U.S.

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Use of the synthetic drug known as Spice has been causing havoc throughout Russia, with more than 25 deaths and 700 others seeking medical help across the country in recent weeks.

Much of the Spice, a cannabis substitute made with herbs and lab-synthesized chemicals, has been imported into Russia from China. However, plenty of Russian labs are now making the drug themselves. The relative ease with which these labs can substitute banned chemicals with legal ones in order to avoid criminal consequences has led to the Russian Parliament considering passing a bill that would ban all synthetic smoking mixtures.

“The current system of fighting spice simply doesn’t work,” said Sultan Khamzayev, a member of Russia’s public chamber and an anti-drug campaigner. “Chemists need just three hours to change the formula, but all the necessary bureaucratic work to identify and then ban a particular drug takes five months. That means for the whole period, people can simply sell any old poison.”

One Spice addict, Valentina, even declared that coming down from the drug was worse than the heroin withdrawal she previously experienced. Spice withdrawal typically involves minor physical symptoms, but can also include intense depression.

“One day I stood up and I understood with absolute clarity that the only way for me to escape from the awful life I was in was to murder both of my children and then kill myself,” she said. “I was crystal clear that this was the only course of action open to me. Luckily, my husband stopped me and calmed me down. But what about people who don’t have that support?”

Drug use has been on the rise overall in Russia. A 2013 report from the Federal Drug Control Service of the Russian Federation (FSKN) stated that an estimated 8.5 million Russian citizens are addicted to drugs, with 70,000 dying from them each year. With the handful of state-run centers already beyond capacity and private clinics priced far beyond the means of most residents, most of Russia’s addicts are left without a suitable option for treatment.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.