This article first appeared in the Florence Times Daily on Thursday, May 21, 2015.

Jeanette Custer and Brenda McManus don’t work in the emergency services field, but they are grandmothers who want to know more about so-called designer drugs.

They were the lone members of the public to attend an afternoon presentation Wednesday at Shoals Ambulance Service on designer drugs such as Spice and bath salts.

Operations Manager Blake Hargett said Shoals Ambulance offered two informational sessions to help emergency medical technicians, firefighters and other first responders, and the public, learn more about the drugs.

Spice is a name associated with what is called synthetic marijuana, which is an inert plant material sprayed with a variety of chemicals that attempt to reproduce the effects of marijuana, said Kevin Montgomery, a nurse who conducts educational outreach programs for Air Evac Lifeteam.

Hargett said they are responding to two or three calls a week involving Spice. He said the numbers could be higher because some people might end up being treated at a hospital emergency room.

Montgomery said Spice is dangerous and deliberately mislabeled to avoid regulation. The substance is illegal in the United States.

He said it is primarily used by individuals who are subject to random drug testing because Spice will not show up on a drug screen.

“It’s a way you could get high and not be detected,” Montgomery said.

The substance often was sold in convenience stores and tobacco shops under names such as K2 and K2. The packages were often marked “not for human consumption.”

With many of the chemicals used to make Spice being made illegal, amateur chemists are making their own concoctions, Hargett said.

He said Spice can be five times as powerful as marijuana and cause dangerous side effects, such as suicidal thoughts and cardiac arrest.

Hargett said there isn’t much to do to counteract the effects of the drugs. Sometimes, all emergency services providers can do is try to calm the patient down until the effects wear off.

If the drug has been taken in conjunction with another drug, they can provide treatment to counteract the effects of those drugs.

Custer, who retired from the Florence city school system in 2011, said she attended the session to learn more about designer drugs because she has nine grandchildren.

“I’m curious about what they’re confronted with these days,” Custer said.

McManus said she’s working toward a degree in social work at the University of North Alabama, and is about to take a class on drugs in society.

Custer said often times, the drug of choice of any demographic group is affected by their socioeconomic status.

She said she wished more members of the public could have attended the session.

Hargett and Montgomery said they would be glad to make the presentation available to any groups wishing to learn more about designer drugs.