by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Some say smoking Spice and Salvia is all the rage. What they should also say is that it can get you kicked out of the Air Force.
In June, the Air Force made it illegal to use or possess Spice or Salvia. Both plants resemble marijuana — dry, green, and leafy. Salvia is sold in loose leaf or extract form and Spice is often advertised as “incense.” A smoker of these substances may experience intense psychedelic hallucinations, might laugh uncontrollably and might get dizzy.
But, there is nothing funny about the mind-altering substances, said Maj. Stacey Vetter, 21st Space Wing deputy staff judge advocate.
“I come at it from a legal stand point because that is my job,” Major Vetter said. “But, this is bad stuff.”
Reports of Airmen smoking or ingesting Spice and Salvia started coming in last year. The problem was that neither plant was listed as a controlled substance. But the substances give people an intoxicating effect, which could affect a person’s ability to perform work duties. In March, Col. Stephen N. Whiting, 21st Space Wing commander, expressly outlawed the use or possession of Spice and Salvia for all 21st SW military members. He wrote in a policy letter that intoxicating substances like Spice and Salvia seriously undermine the wing’s mission.
“Abuse of intoxicating substances threatens our military readiness and diminishes the ability to conduct our mission,” he said.
Other commanders had written policies regarding the use of the Spice or Salvia, but there was no uniform treatment across the Air Force, Major Vetter said. In some cases, Airmen from Peterson AFB mission partners caught using or possessing Spice or Salvia received different treatment than 21st SW Airmen.
However, under the change to Air Force Instruction 44-121, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program, Spice and Salvia are added to the list of intoxicating substances that are illegal in the Air Force and “anybody who does this is going to be held to the same standards that say, you are in violation of Uniform Code of Military Justice under Article 92,” Major Vetter said.
That means Airmen found to be in possession of, or using, Spice or Salvia can face a letter of reprimand, a court marshal, demotion or even discharge.
“It helps commanders treat their folks equally,” she said.
Smoking Spice and Salvia has been going on for years, but it really became popular last spring, said Staff Sgt. David Stewart, 21st Security Forces Squadron investigator. That’s when investigators starting seeing a spike in use and started finding more of it in dormitory checks and even in the pockets of Airmen. Both substances are sold in small foil or plastic bags and cost roughly $30 per gram. The symptoms and signs of smoking Spice or Salvia are similar to those of smoking marijuana, Sergeant Stewart said.
“The difference is that you get more of a paranoid reaction with these drugs,” he said.
Investigators have witnessed Airmen high on Spice or Salvia become extremely fidgety and jumping at the slightest sound. Users act sneaky, have slurred speech and have difficulty keeping their balance.
“I’ve got reports here of individuals trashing their rooms,” Sergeant Stewart said.
It’s no wonder. Recent testing by the Drug Enforcement Agency revealed that Spice contains a chemically manufactured tetrahydrocannanbinol, commonly known as THC, which has the potential to be as much as 800 times more potent than marijuana. The risk of facing long-term neurological damage increases with such a substance.
“Anytime you ingest things into your body it’s doing something to you,” Major Vetter said. “And these things can be pretty dangerous.”