Posted on 13 April 2010 by The Broadside Editor
Pulse, Earthquake, Samurai Spirit, Spice, K2. What sounds like aftershaves marketed to adolescents are actually brand names for a product labeled as incense, recently banned in Missouri and awaiting the passage of a ban by Georgia lawmakers. But what is it?
K2, as it is most popularly known, is an herbal mix sprayed with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), synthetic compounds that mimic the active ingredient in cannabis satia, or marijuana. K2 is generally produced in laboratories in Asia, and has been legal for sale and use in all fifty states until last month, when Missouri put its ban into effect.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration lists K2 as a “drug of concern.” If the Georgia House of Representatives follows the Senate in approving the ban, K2 will join heroin and methamphetamine on the Schedule 1 list of Georgia’s controlled substances.
The chemical compound in K2, initially known as JWH-018, was developed by Clemson University organic chemist John W. Huffman. The cannabinoid in the product known as Spice was developed by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals over twenty years ago.
According the the webpage Terra Sigillata on Scienceblogs.com, Huffman regarded the development of the compound as a minor achievment, but isn’t surprised that it has taken a comercial turn. “All it needed was somebody with a reasonable understanding of science to see the papers we had published and think, ‘Aha!’”
The prducts aren’t well known in Central Oregon. A popular novelty store and head shop on highway 97 does not carry K2 or Spice, and the clerk didn’t know anywhere it could be had in Bend. K2 is readily available over the internet, however.
When smoked, it is said to produce a short-term (five to thirty minute) high similar to what one would get from marijuana. The synthetic compound does not show up in standard urine analyses.
The chemical is classified as illegal in several European and Scandinavian countries. While no federal ban exists in the U.S., there is concern over the unregulated nature of K2.
Dawn Dearden, spokesperson for the DEA said, “There is no way… to determine the chemical makeup, synthetic ingredients, or amounts… [or to] determine with any accuracy what the potential harmful effects may be.”
Huffman said producing the synthetic drug “is a two-step process using commercially available chemicals.” The seventy-one year old added, “I think anybody that smokes it is stupid… I have nothing against recreational drugs, but if you don’t know the long-term consequences or toxicity, you’re an idiot to take it.” Huffman knew of no peer-reviewed journal or study that had addressed the subject.
Synthetic marijuana has also raised objections from those who protest the illegality of the real thing. Groups such as the one that posts The NORML Stash blog insist that the legalization of marijuana would prevent potentially harmful synthetics from entering the market.
The Missouri ban on K2 parallels concerns in Ireland over a legal substance marketed as “bath salts” or plant food, but actually being ingested as a party drug Mephendrone, known as “meow-meow” or “MCAT” is smoked, snorted, or swallowed, and is “chemically and pharmacologically similar to amphetamines and cocaine,” according to the Times of India. While mephendrone is illegal in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, it is legal in the U.S., available mostly through international internet sites.
It may be that synthetic marijuana has not gained popularity in Central Oregon due to an interest in more natural products, or because there has been less “buzz” on the products west of the Rockies.
Missouri lawmakers reacted to instances of teenagers being hospitalized after using K2, and indeed much of the argument against the sale and possession is K2 centers on children’s health. It’s likely, though, that consenting adults in Central Oregon will have greater access to these products, and in addition to the effects of cannabinoids on the body, there is the issue of combustion products, i.e. tar and carbon monoxide, present whenever any type of plant material is smoked.
Regardless of the level of government intervention, it will remain the responsibility of the individual to assess the risk involved in any conscious-altering substance.
You may contact Irene Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org