"We've seen some limited usage," he said. "Without having a specific test that's part of our urinalysis panel — which this Spice cannot be — it's difficult to gauge the extent of use as compared to something like cocaine or THC, which we've been able to measure for years and years."

Still, he said, the Army is taking the drug "very, very seriously."

"Some of the more concerning effects are, No. 1, the 'high' doesn't go away," he said. "The effects can range from extreme euphoria, you know you're breaking down and crying and thanking the world that you're here, to absolute paranoid schizophrenia. It raises people's body temperatures. They want to start taking their clothes off. ...

"But the bottom line is, if you want to play Russian roulette with your mind and your body, then go ahead and step up and try Spice. Because you don't know what you're going to get, but it could affect you for the rest of your life."

Among the challenges to military commanders has been the ready availability of synthetic marijuana in the communities in which service members are based. Because it can be made from a variety of chemicals, manufacturers have been able to change the ingredients to stay ahead of regulators.

Rothstein, the Fort Meade commander, raised the issue of synthetic marijuana use last year at a meeting of military commanders and state government leaders.

He described it as a "distracter," and said he would be working local officials and community leaders "to see what we can do to try to make it at least harder for these young service members to get this."

He said he learned of the drug from a friend on the base whose son had used it.

"It's been here for a while. When I say here in the community, yes on Fort Meade, but also outside the fence line. ... It's not by any means an epidemic. Nor do I believe that this community is an epicenter for this problem."

Rothstein said he asked military police investigators to determine how easily service members could obtain the drug. He added the two service stations to Fort Meade's off-limits list last month.

"The intent absolutely is not a witch-hunt approach," he said. "I truly believe that at the end of the day, it's a community approach. And it's the entire community, not to single out businesses or institutions, but to ensure that we all work together to eradicate this problem."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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