BERLIN – Germany will ban the sale and possession of the herbal drug mixture known as "spice," after finding it contained a synthetic ingredient similar to marijuana, the country's drug czar said Tuesday.
Drug Commissioner Sabine Baetzing is seeking a ban on the blend by the end of January after research on "spice" found that it was four times more powerful than marijuana. Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands have also banned the herb mix.
"Consumption of this substance is dangerous for a person's health," Baetzing said in a statement.
Authorities across Europe have been taking a closer look "spice" since its use became trendy earlier this year. They say it is being sold on the street as well as in so-called "head shops."
Officials say "spice" is typically rolled into cigarettes and smoked.
The drug has been marketed under a variety of different blends, or flavors including "Spice Silver," "Spice Gold," "Spice Diamond," "Spice Arctic Synergy," "Spice Tropical Synergy" and "Spice Yukatan Fire."
Meanwhile, the colorful metallic 3-gram packages of "spice" continue to fly off the shelves in Berlin's alternative Kreuzberg district, where it sells for around $43 per 3-gram packet.
"We just got a shipment in yesterday, and it will be gone within the week," Janna Ehlke, 28, who works at a shop called Headache, said recently. "It produces a great high."
A London-based company called Psyche Deli is listed on the packaging as making "spice," but when contacted by telephone, company representative Jeff Anderson said they only sold, but did not manufacture the product. He refused to comment further.
Thomas Daldrup, a toxicologist at the University of Duesseldorf, said he believes the mixture has become popular because it provides a placebo effect.
"It's as expensive as cannabis, and since people suspect that it works the same way, they will believe there is really an effect," Daldrup said in a telephone interview.
Heike Krauser, who works at Berlin's Emergency Drug Services, said concerns of a health risk are real, noting that users of "spice" have told her they experienced a faster heart beat, as well as a high that worked longer than marijuana.
In Germany, the possession of a small amount of marijuana is tolerated in most of its 16 states.
Baetzing also blamed a recent flurry of media attention surrounding "spice" for helping to establish it as a trend, especially among younger users.