On a weekend sometime in late winter or early spring, four young people checked themselves into the emergency department at St. John Medical Center complaining of similar symptoms. Each was nervous, panicky, and their hearts were racing, said Dr. Brian Hoyt, the director of the hospital's emergency department.
Two of them arrived together, two others showed up separately. The teenagers and young adults, between the ages of 13 and 26, said they had smoked a synthetic form of marijuana known generically as "spice" but also called by its brand names, Black Mamba and K2.
"It's a new thing that we never saw before," said Hoyt, whose staff observed the patients for several hours before releasing them.
The drug, which looks like ground and dried oregano and smells much like burning marijuana, is legal in Washington and sold in several stores around Longview, including Smokin' J's and Video Store N' More. It costs around $26 per ounce.
Spice is labeled as incense and its manufacturers say it isn't for "human consumption." But it's often rolled in joints or smoked in marijuana pipes.
Hoyt said the drug is designed to attach itself to the receptors of the brain that respond to THC, the main ingredient in old-fashioned organic pot. But a "small percentage" of people are having a "dysphoric reaction" to the drug, becoming nervous and scared, he said. One of the four to visit the emergency room this year had a heart rate of around 160, which could cause heart failure in a person with cardiovascular problems, Hoyt said.