Roanoke, VA — The numbers of people using it are growing, and so are the numbers of people getting sick.
Two 19-year-old men were taken to the hospital after smoking what's often called "legal weed" in Blacksburg Thursday. According to the Blacksburg Police Department, one of the teenagers is a Virginia Tech student. The other is from North Carolina and is not affiliated with the university.
Researchers call it synthetic marijuana. It's sold online, in convenience stores and tobacco shops. While it is banned in several states, it's currently legal in Virginia. The product has been on the shelves since 2006, and the first state to ban it was Kansas just a few months ago. Several countries have already made it illegal because of health problems.
There are more than a dozen varieties, but it's commonly referred to as Spice. Marketers call it an herbal incense, but people smoke it looking for marijuana-like effects.
Sherie's Place, a novelty shop in Roanoke, sells the product, but only to adults.
"When they come in here and ask for it... we tell them it's not for human consumption, it's an incense-use only," says manager Nikki Chocklett.
The companies who make the incense say it's made with herbs, but researchers say it's a synthetic, mystery drug. While people smoke it like marijuana, it can cause anxiety, upset stomach and a fast heartbeat.
"I don't know which additional so-called herbal chemical is in there, so that's why the effect may vary," explains Dr. Mukesh Patel with the Center for Emotional Care in Salem. He says each variety is different, so there are different health effects. "God only knows what kind of additional things they add, but that combination can create a totally different approach... that combination is where the mystery is."