Sold in a small pouch clearly labeled “not intended for human consumption,” Gainesville Green Sense is marketed as an herbal air freshener. The finely crumbled blend of dry plant matter smells slightly sweet, similar to a fruity bubblegum.
Different companies market products like Spice, K2 and, now, Gainesville Green Sense as incense or potpourri. Unofficially, the products are known to mimic the effects or marijuana when smoked.
I’m sitting in a room full of seasoned pot smokers. One of them, Cari*, gingerly empties a packet of the potpourri into the bowl of a water pipe. Lighting the bowl, Cari inhales deeply and blows out a dragon-style stream of smoke, accompanied by a cough or two.
“It’s a lot like inhaling tobacco except less harsh and it tastes sort of sweet,” Cari said post-cough.
“I was smoking with my friend who told me about something new and similar to weed, but legal. I trusted him and I smoked it,” Will, another former pot smoker who made the switch, said.
Gainesville Green Sense is sold in one-gram packets and fractions of an ounce. The marketing uses unmistakably cliché pot branding – just the name Gainesville Green Sense evokes memories of the famous strain of local pot that put Gainesville on the map in the 1970s.
Spice entered the “legal bud” market circa 2006. Since then, laboratories confirmed the presence of JWH-018 in the product – a synthetic cannabinoid that manufacturers spray onto a combination of otherwise innocuous herbs.
“The biggest difference for me is that I know what I’m smoking every time. When you buy weed off the street, it could be any strength,” Will said.
Smoking the so-called synthetic weed may not be without consequence, however. The American Association of Poison Control Centers received more than 100 phone calls regarding the products since 2009.
People with negative reactions report symptoms like anxiety, paranoia and a racing heart beat. “People are just having a reaction similar to that of smoking too much marijuana – i.e. intense paranoia or anxiety,” Will said. In addition, synthetic cannabinoids may be stronger than THC, the active component in marijuana, and easier to unknowingly ingest too much of.
As the smokers continued to pass around the water pipe, their eyes reddened, giggles ensued and discussion of new taco flavors began.
“They should make tacos with Doritos-flavored shells – meta-tacos,” Cari said.
One of them, Susan, took notes about her experience. She noted that she “feels stoned, has the munchies, and loves Fleetwood Mac.”
Because the introduction of Spice into the market, other products have cropped up that use Spice’s marketing scheme to attract customers looking for a legal or easier-to-purchase weed alternative.
“It’s a little bit different than a normal high, but I’m not sure how to describe it,” Susan said. “It feels like a more active high.”
Since the synthetic cannabinoids are not listed as controlled substances, the blend remains legal in most states.
Kansas passed the first statewide law prohibiting the sale or possession of synthetic cannabinoids on March 10.
Kentucky and Alabama followed suit soon after. Other states considering banning the substance include Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee. Sales remain legal throughout Florida.
“I switched [to Spice] because its legal and I need to get drug tested. I still prefer weed. I just can’t smoke it right now,” Will said.
*Names withheld for privacy.