Washington (CNN) -- The Navy has discharged 16 sailors assigned to the Norfolk, Virginia-based USS Bataan for using or dealing the synthetic marijuana-mimicking drug known as "spice." The use of the drug is a problem on the rise, according to the Navy.
An empty package of the drug was discovered by security during a routine patrol of the ship in November. An investigation that spanned eight weeks was immediately launched.
"The Navy has a zero tolerance policy on drug abuse. Drug use undercuts unit readiness and morale, and is inconsistent with our Navy Core Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment," Lt. Cmdr. Bill Urban, a spokesman with Naval Surface Force Atlantic, said in a statement.
Spice, also known as K2, is a mixture of herbs and spices that typically is sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, according to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration fact sheet.
"K2 is commonly purchased in head shops, tobacco shops, various retail outlets and over the Internet," the DEA said. "It is often marketed as incense or 'fake weed.'" Its effects on the body are similar to that of marijuana.
In January, seven midshipmen were expelled from the Naval Academy for using the synthetic drug.
And in just the last four months 151 sailors have been accused of using or possessing the drug, already an almost 60% increase when compared to the previous fiscal year, which ended in September.
"The number of incidents of spice usage is rising at an alarming rate in our Navy," said Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command. "If you are considering using Spice, I strongly urge you to reconsider. If you are caught using it, even once, you will be processed for separation from the Navy. There is no second chance."
While the synthetic drug is not yet considered illegal in the United States, the Defense Department and the Navy in particular have banned it.
The Navy sent out a service-wide message in March 2010 to re-emphasize the ban. In April, the command of the Bataan went a step further, requiring the crew to sign a letter advising them that designer and herbal products like spice were prohibited. Again in June and November of last year, on special "safety days," the sailors on the Bataan were reminded of the ban.
The DEA is currently in the process of placing an emergency ban on spice and other synthetic drugs. The announcement was officially made in November and Dawn Dearden, a spokeswoman for the DEA, said the ban could take effect any day now. The DEA must give the public 30 days' notice on substances they intend to ban.
The emergency ban will be in place for a year as federal officials study whether the products and chemicals should be permanently controlled, the agency said.