"I want people, kids especially, to understand that these things are not safe," he added. "They are not marijuana. They're toxic. They're dangerous. They can kill you."
Spice is just one of many emerging designer drugs that are made to mimic well established but harder-to-get substances. Some synthetic drugs act like stimulants, others like opiates, others like hallucinogens.
Synthetic marijuana works by stimulating the same receptors in the brain that react to THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. The intended result is to deliver a pot-like high.
But one difference between the nature-made and manmade versions, Moran said, is that the plant activates receptors only partially, while drugs like Spice fully stimulate receptors, making them far more potent.
Because designer drugs are new and constantly being reformulated, they manage to skirt regulation, often showing up in gas stations and convenience stores with flashy marketing that appeals to kids. Users get the message that they're fun and safe, but the reality is often much darker.