Los Angeles' Skid Row has been hit with what some call a spice epidemic.

The synthetic cannabinoid is sold as two joints for $1 and can give users a six-hour trip, authorities have said. Last month, 32 Skid Row residents were hospitalized in what officials described as two “mass overdose incidents” tied to the drug.

While Los Angeles city officials are considering a local ban on the substance, the Los Angeles Police Department took action this week by arresting five people accused of being downtown spice dealers.

The arrests took place about noon Wednesday but were announced late yesterday. The suspects were arrested for allegedly having these synthetic cannabinoids “for sale,” the department said in a statement. The identities of the five were not revealed. “We're not releasing names at this point because the investigation is ongoing,” said Officer Liliana Preciado.

It sounds like the LAPD is pretty serious about the problem. The crackdown was made by Gang and Narcotics Division investigators and Central Area Narcotics Enforcement Detail cops. 

Detectives say they figured out where the drug, often sprayed on dry leaves and rolled up into joints, was being made and sold on Skid Row. They got a search warrant, and allegedly found “money, controlled substances and other precursor chemicals used in the making of spice,” the LAPD said.

“The use of synthetic cannabinoids, a type of manufactured drug that is sprayed onto plant material and smoked like a cigarette or marijuana, has significantly increased in the city of Los Angeles over recent months,” the department stated. “This drug, often referred to as 'spice,' is far less expensive and far more potent than natural marijuana and can often cause serious side effects, such as loss of consciousness, paranoia, tachycardia and psychotic episodes.”

Indeed, there's been a 20 percent increase in the so-called visible homeless — those in encampments and cars — this year, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. And spice's promise of a cheap vacation from street reality, despite the risk of bad trips and hospitalization, is proving to be irresistible for many.

An emergency city ban was proposed last week by Councilman Mitch Englander. It's being drafted by city lawyers; the City Council will have to approve it in order for the prohibition to become law. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has already banned 29 types of synthetic cannabinoids.

“Over recent months, there have been mass overdoses related to the use of synthetic cannabinoids among the homeless population on Skid Row, with two mass overdoses in the area … resulting in over 50 people being transported to the hospital,” he said.

If our news sense is right, this week's busts will only be the beginning.

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