Imitation marijuana problem: K2 – Nola Diamond
Written by Janet
The states of Missouri and Kansas have a new problem on their hands. As the saying goes, there’s nothing like the real thing, but industrious marijuana users have seized on an obscure but easily accessible substance that mimics the drug’s effects on the brain — creating a popular trade in legal dope that has stymied law enforcement authorities.
These users are buying a product known as “K2”, or Spice, Genie, or Zohai that is commonly sold in headshops as incense. These products are produced in China and Korea and are the mixture of herbs and spices is sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Users roll it up in joints or inhale it from pipes, just like the real thing.
K2 is banned in most of Europe, and it’s key ingredients are not regulated in the United States — a gap that has prompted lawmakers in Missouri and Kansas to consider new legislation. Authorities in Johnson County, Kansas, discovered ex-convicts on probation smoking K2, and it’s spreading to high schools. The owner of The Vise smoke shop in a St. Louis suburb, who said she only sells to adults.
She said she sells about 60 packages a week, with suppliers calling her weekly to pitch new brands. She said she’s keeping an eye on what state lawmakers decide, though.
K2 costs between $20 and $50 for three grams — similiar to the street price of marijuana — but with the key advantages of being legal and undetectable in drug tests. The key ingredients are believed to be the unintended result of scientific research on marijuana’s effects. A Clemson University organic chemistry professor, Dr. John Huffman, was researching the effects of cannabinoids on the brain when his work resulted in a 1995 paper that contained the method and ingredients used to make the compound. That recipe found its way to marijuana users, who replicated Huffman’s work and began spraying it onto dried flowers, herbs and tobacco.
The new bill proposed in Missouri would make possession a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison — identical to punishments given to users of real marijuana. A similar bill in Kansas would make possession a misdemeanor, with up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine, also the same as marijuana convictions. In the rural southern Missouri city of West Plains, K2 is sold in a head shop just blocks from the high school. A botched attempt by teens to steal K2 from the shop brought the substance to the attention of police.
Even though it’s legal, the military has banned K2. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has classified it a “drug or chemical of concern.” Compared to marijuana, the high is much shorter according to some users.
There is no data on the drug’s toxicity or how long it stays in the body. In mice, it can lead to a lower body temperature, partial paralysis and the temporary inability to feel pain, according to the DEA.
One of the few studies of the compound’s use was performed by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, a Portugal-based agency of the European Union, in November 2009. The study found the amount of synthetic compound varies widely between brands, and that despite being widely available, it isn’t clear how many Europeans use it.