BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Synthetic marijuana, often known as "spice," is affecting not only young drug users, but even pregnant mothers.
Doctors at Kern Medical Center say they've treated one verified case, and they suspect others.
Eyewitness News is investigating the drug, and we were contacted by Dr. Sally Wonderly-Nalesnik. She was the attending physician when a young girl came in to give birth at KMC.
"It was awful, she was having a seizure, she had high-blood pressure, and she had psychosis," Nalesnik said. The physician can't go into more specifics about this case, but said those symptoms are known side effects of spice.
Often sold in packets or small jars, "spice" has been available in smoke shops, though it is now illegal under both state and federal law to sell, distribute or possess with intent to sell. The laws ban the five active chemicals most used in spice.
Dr. Nalesnik said doctors thought the young mother was on drugs of some kind when she arrived at KMC to give birth. They didn't know what it was until later.
"We weren't aware of the spice use until after the fact, when her family revealed it to us," Dr. Nalesnik said. She added the family said the girl used a lot of spice.
Local families have complained the drug is still easily available in local smoke shops. Law officers tell Eyewitness News makers of spice try to get around the laws banning it, by slightly changing the chemical compounds they use.
Experts say spice is usually a dried, shredded plant material with the chemical additives that are responsible for the mind-altering effects.
At KMC, doctors believe there is spice use by a number of obstetrical patients.
"We have suspicions that there's a lot more patients that we just aren't identifying because the family members aren't telling us, or the patient's not telling us," Dr. Nalesnik said. "And we can't readily detect it in our urine drug screens."
The doctor said with the mother confirmed as a spice-user, it was a difficult situation. "Eventually she was OK, but we had to treat her. It was serious, touch and go."
And asked about the condition of the baby, Dr. Nalesnik said the child seemed OK. "Unfortunately, we don't know the long-term effects of spice on children," she added.
And, long-term psychological impacts are another very big concern this doctor has. She worries about that for any babies born to mothers under the influence, and any teen or adult spice-user.
"The psychosis could be forever," Dr. Nalesnik said. "I think these people can have this problem, from just smoking once or twice, forever."
The KMC doctors are now sharing what they're seeing and learning about obstetrical patients and spice use. They'll present a paper next week at a national conference of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Dr. Cindy Lee will give the presentation at the meeting in New Orleans titled "Spice Gold, A New Drug, A New Problem, A New Obstetric Phenomenon."
"I'm really proud of our work here at KMC, to be selected at a national meeting," Dr. Nalesnik said. She added it's important to alert other OB-GYN's about the problem, and what KMC is learning about it.
In the case the doctors confirmed as spice use, Nalesnik said they had no chance to try helping the young mother after the baby was delivered. "Unfortunately, she left to get more drugs," the physician said. "Without medical advice, against medical advice."
But, the KMC doctors hope they can warn others. "It's a reality that we need to be aware of, that our young youth in Bakersfield are using drugs," Dr. Nalesnik said. "Even pregnant."