Rising Use of Synthetic Cannabinoids by Truckers

OK women's softball team bus

Zombie Trucker

The truck driver seemed seemed shocked and dazed after traveling 950 feet across a medium, striking a bus carrying the North Central Texas College women’s softball team, then traveling hundreds of feet down an embankment and into some trees.

Rescuers found 53-year-old Russell Staley about 45 minutes later, still in the cab. He says he only remembered running off of the road. First responders said the truck driver seemed like he was in a zombie-like state.

Photograph by Oklahoma Highway Patrol

Photograph: Oklahoma Highway Patrol

The Evidence Mounts

Police later found a pipe on the floorboard in side the truck, with the burnt residue of 5-fluoro-AMB, a synthetic cannabinoid — known on the street as “spice.”

More troubling, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report on the Sept. 26 2014 crash concluding not only was it highly likely the truck driver was incapacitated, but that he had a history of synthetic cannabinoid use.

Other findings of the NTSB include:

  • Motors Carriers were in compliance
  • §40.85 does not include synthetic cannabinoids
  • Synthetic drugs are widely available
  • Research on synthetic drug use is needed
  • Plans to detect and deter synthetic drug use is needed

What are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Synthetic cannabinoids are mind-altering chemicals that mimic the effect of THC – one of the ingredients in cannabis. THC is the part of cannabis that results in a ‘high’ for the user. These chemicals are sprayed on a mixture of herbs and sold under brand names such as “Kronic”, “Spice”, and “K2”. Such products were developed to be a legal alternative to cannabis, however many synthetic cannabinoids substances are now banned.

The first synthetic cannabis appeared in 2004, sold under the brand name Spice in Europe. Since 2006 K2 and Spice have been marketed for use as incense in the U.S., but smoked for its effects.

K2 or Spice can be anywhere from 4 times to over 100 times more potent than regular marijuana (THC). While often smoked, it can be mixed with food or drink.  K2 and Spice are sold for about $30 to $40 per a three-gram bag (equal to about 3 sugar packets),

Despite being considered illegal Schedule I substances, synthetic cannabinoids products are widely available. Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States — or any accepted safety for use under medical supervision. New variations of synthetic marijuana are coming out in liquid form. Synthetic drugs are labeled as “not for human consumption” to avoid FDA regulation and mislead authorities.


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Short-term Effects

  • loss of control
  • lack of pain response
  • increased agitation
  • panic attacks
  • pale skin
  • seizures
  • vomiting
  • profuse sweating
  • uncontrolled/spastic body movements
  • elevated blood pressure
  • elevated heart rate and palpitations
  • threatening behavior and aggression
  • terrible headaches
  • inability to speak
  • psychotic episodes

The effects of synthetic drugs may range from a few hours up to more than eight hours. Death from violent behavior or suicide have resulted from Spice abuse.

Users can also become addicted to Spice.

Other Signs of Spice Abuse

K2/Spice has a pungent odor similar to marijuana.

Spice and other synthetic drugs do not show up on drug screens, unless used within two hours prior to the drug test.

There may be changes in the user’s mood, productivity or hygiene.

DOT Considerations

Drivers are prohibited from engaging in a safety-sensitive function when the driver uses “any controlled substance” (except under the supervision of a licensed medical practitioner). 49 CFR 382.213(a)

CMV drivers specifically may not use Schedule I drugs and be qualified to drive CMVs.

Company policy should prohibit possession or use of synthetic cannabinoids or synthetic marijuana.

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