By Scott Prater
When the Drug Enforcement Administration employed its emergency powers to ban the drug known as “spice” earlier this month, the status of a similar drug, often mentioned in the same sentence or as a synonym for spice, became slightly more clouded.
Salvia, or salvia divinorum, looks similar to spice, but is different in one key aspect. Whereas spice consists of plant material coated with synthetic cannabinoids, salvia is a natural herb, belonging to the sage family of plants.
Air Force members may ask: is salvia illegal now? The simple answer is salvia is still legal for the general population — but not for Air Force members.
Savvy retailers have coined names for them like Chronic, K-2, Sally D and Yucatan. Meanwhile, manufacturers and marketers have developed enticing packaging and even helped spread a positive vibe about the new “fake pot” drugs.
During the summer of 2008, when spice and salvia, began popping up at retail shops around the country, Air Force leaders took notice.
Designed to mimic the look, feel and effect of marijuana, spice and salvia may seem harmless simply because they’ve been sold legally in a vast majority of American states for the past three years, but their effects are very real and the Air Force has taken a clear stand against their possession and use.
“The bottom line is, even though they’re legal in some form downtown, they’re still going to damage your brain,” said Eddie Roskie, Schriever’s Drug Demand Reduction Program manager. “A lot of the K-2 and salvia is more potent than actual marijuana.”
The rising popularity and increased use of these drugs are what prompted the policy change at both the wing and AF levels. Colonel Monteith states that the Schriever AFB policy is based on several factors including: AF and federal guidance, health risks to Airmen, the good order and discipline of the wing in a time of ongoing conflict and the associated threat of substance abuse to the 50 SW mission and to U.S. national security.
By June, AF leaders had amended Air Force Instruction 44-121, prohibiting the use and possession of spice and salvia type drugs along with the use of inhalants, propellants and solvents for mood altering purposes.
According to the DEA, spice and other products like it are herbal plant blends coated with chemicals designed to mimic tetrahydrocannabinal, the active ingredient in marijuana. Adverse effects of the drugs include panic attacks, anxiety, vomiting, hallucinations, elevated blood pressure, paranoid behavior and seizures.
“From a safety concern, both the AF and the federal government have realized the potential danger associated with these drugs,” said Capt. Sarah Dingivan, 50 SW judge advocate chief of adverse actions. “The main point is the safety of the individual and the impact to the AF mission.”
Airmen who fail to obey the AF policy face serious disciplinary and administrative actions.
“Members caught using or in possession of spice can be charged under Article 112a of the UCMJ,” said Staff Sgt. Jennifer Morris, 50th Space Wing, noncommissioned officer in charge of military justice. “Offenders can be charged with using the drug, and if for example, they live in the dorms and bring it on to base the can be charged with introducing it to a military installation. If they provide it to friends they can also be charged with distribution. So they can be charged three different ways.”
Maximum punishments for violating Article 112a include dishonorable discharge, bad conduct discharge, five years of confinement and total forfeiture of pay.
“Members should also know that the Brooks Laboratory, (the AF-wide lab that all urine specimens go to for testing,) is now testing for spice and salvia and can detect both drugs in urine samples,” Sergeant Morris said.
Administrative and legal ramifications aside, 50 SW Chief of Safety, Lt. Col. Michael Wulfestieg, says Airmen should be wary of these drugs simply for the sake of safety.
“Individuals need to be very cautious when eating, drinking or smoking any (new) extract or concoction,” he said. “There are many products in stores and on the internet that are being sold and the short- and long-term physical and mental effects are not well known, but they might possibly lead to serious injury or death.”