Top-ranked LSU suspended cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon and tailback Spencer Ware from the team after they tested positive for synthetic marijuana in a school-administered drug test earlier this month, two people familiar with the situation told ESPN.com on Thursday.
The Tigers will be without the three players -- Mathieu and Ware are starters, and Simon is a heavily used reserve -- for Saturday's game against Auburn (No. 20 BCS, No. 19 AP) at Tiger Stadium. A source familiar with the situation said coach Les Miles suspended the players indefinitely, but added the trio might be back before LSU's showdown Nov. 5 at No. 2 Alabama.
"There are some requirements in place which the players have to complete before they'll be allowed back on the team," a person familiar with the situation told ESPN.com.
Synthetic marijuana is sold as blends of exotic herbs and plant materials and are coated with chemicals called synthetic cannabinoids, which produce a marijuana-like high when smoked. A news release issued by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in April said synthetic cannabinoids are "designer drugs" that are "manufactured and distributed in an attempt to circumvent the Controlled Substances Act. They are marketed in a manner so as to mask their intended purpose and are labeled with a statement that the package contents are 'not for human consumption,' or are 'for novelty use only.' "
In March, the DEA banned for one year the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana, which is commonly known by its brand names "Spice" and "K2." The DEA said its action was necessary to "avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety."
Possessing or selling synthetic marijuana is now illegal as the DEA and Department of Health and Human Services study whether the substance should be regulated on a permanent basis.
Five chemicals commonly found in synthetic marijuana blends are now classified as Schedule I controlled substances, a category reserved for unsafe and highly abused substances with no medical use.
Earlier this month, a South Carolina coroner said chemicals used in synthetic marijuana contributed to the death of Anderson (S.C.) University basketball player Lamar Jack.
Jack, 19, collapsed during a preseason workout Sept. 30. He died at AnMed Hospital in Anderson four days later.
Anderson County coroner Greg Shore said Jack died after ingesting the chemical JWH-018, which is used to make synthetic marijuana. Jack's death was caused by acute drug toxicity, which led to multiple organ failure, Shore said.
"This drug certainly triggered this young athlete's death and that is tragic," Shore said.
According to published reports, Jack, a redshirt freshman from Piedmont, S.C., complained of cramps and vision problems before collapsing. He had an extremely high body temperature when he was rushed to the emergency room.
According to the DEA, side effects of using synthetic marijuana include convulsions, anxiety attacks, dangerously elevated heart rates, increased blood pressure, vomiting and disorientation.
The DEA said synthetic marijuana use has become increasingly popular among teenagers and young adults. According to a DEA news release, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported in March 2010 that there were 112 calls to U.S. poison control centers since 2009 related to synthetic cannabinoids. Just nine months later, there were more than 2,700 calls from 49 states and the District of Columbia.
"It's an epidemic," a person familiar with the LSU case. "It's not just here, it's everywhere. It's scary because the kids don't know anything about it. It's a student-body issue, not just a student-athlete issue."
Mary Wilfert, NCAA associate director of health and safety, said the NCAA in August added synthetic cannabinoids to its banned class of street drugs, which also includes marijuana, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana) and heroin.
Wilfert said the NCAA isn't testing for synthetic cannabinoids because its drug labs aren't yet equipped to test for them. Wilfert said the NCAA held an educational forum about the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids for its member schools in January during the NCAA convention in San Antonio. She said the NCAA also has educated schools about the drugs through newsletters.
"It's caught our attention and we're addressing it," Wilfert said. "In the near future, after we get information back from our labs, we'll make a determination as to whether we'll start testing for it."
Wilfert said that if a student-athlete tests positive for an NCAA-banned substance in a school-administered drug test, the student-athlete is not subject to NCAA punishment.
"Schools can determine whether they test for something," Wilfert said. "It's independent of NCAA testing. NCAA testing does not test for [synthetic cannabinoids]. I know some schools are testing for it. What the penalties are is up to the school."
Senior writer Mark Schlabach covers college football for ESPN.com.