Pubdate: Wed, 24 Feb 2010
Source: Shelby Star, The (NC)
Copyright: 2010 The Shelby Star
Authors: Daniel Jackson and David Allen


Police, Business Owner Talk Controversial Product

An herbal product sold in local head shops as incense apparently 
mimics the effects of marijuana when smoked. But unlike marijuana, 
it's legal and undetectable in drug tests.

The incense contains a mixtures of herbs and spices along with a 
compound known as JWH-018, a synthetic cannabinoid first used in 
scientific research with properties similar to tetrahydrocannabinol 
(THC) -- the psychoactive substance in the cannabis plant.

Serenity Now, a product sold online and at Smoker's Edge in Shelby 
and Lowell, has been identified as one of the products purported to 
give users a marijuana-like euphoria. Other products known as "K2," 
"Spice," "Genie" and "Zohai" are also said to contain JWH-018.

While a growing number of states are legalizing marijuana for medical 
use, state lawmakers in Missouri and Kansas could ban fake pot just 
like the real thing. North Carolina has not considered a ban, but 
last year, it was the 14th state to outlaw Salvia divinorum, a 
different mint-like herb that has hallucinogenic properties.

Todd Short, owner of Smoker's Edge, said he pulled Salvia incense 
from his shelves as soon as it was banned. And Short said he'll do 
the same, if Serenity Now is outlawed. Short said he only sells his 
products to adults.

"We do have the product. It's incense," Short said. "We've been here 
12 years and we follow all the rules and laws set for us. ... 
Whatever the authorities say, that's what we do."

Serenity Now -- which comes in three-gram packages priced at about 
$55 online and a variety of fruity aromas -- has ingredients listed 
on the packaging and warns that the incense is not for human consumption.

A simple Internet search on the product reveals a wealth of 
parasocial input -- how to smoke it, and its drug-like effects.

"My friend told about some legal herb called Serenity Now," one 
poster writes on a community forum. "I figured it wouldn't work. We 
smoked 2 or 3 bowls and I was stoned. It is some gnarly stuff, I 
recommend trying it. I do not even know how to describe the high."

While the psychoactive ingredients are banned in parts of Europe, it 
is not a controlled substance in the United States. However, JWH-018 
has been identified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as a "drug or 
chemical of concern," and the military has banned possession of K2.

Local Police Haven't Dealt With It

Authorities in Kansas discovered ex-convicts on probation smoking K2, 
and said it is spreading to high school students. Police in Missouri 
and Kansas said they've become aware of K2 in recent weeks.

A proposed bill 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 punishable, with up to a year in jail and a 
$2,500 fine, also the same as marijuana convictions.

Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford was unfamiliar with Serenity Now, 
but said measures should be put in place to educate the public about it.

"Make people aware of what it is and what it does ... especially from 
a parental standpoint," he said. "What it is, what it does, what it 
smells like, and that it's not just something harmless. Got to do a 
lot of education to people on this thing, even educating internally."

Ledford said officials will have to assess the product from an 
impairing standpoint -- after all, "driving while impaired" charges 
are not limited to any single substance in particular. "We'll have to 
figure out how to test for it."

Donna Lahser, a spokeswoman for the Gastonia Police Department, said 
they haven't dealt with it. The products are sold widely, but 
authorities in other states contacted by The Associated Press, 
including Pennsylvania, California and Michigan, said they haven't 
heard of their use as a drug.

Clemson Created Synthetic Cannabinoid

The key ingredients are believed to be the unintended result of 
scientific research on marijuana's effects.

Dr. John Huffman, a Clemson University organic chemistry professor, 
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.

"People who use it are idiots," said Huffman, referring to K2 smokers.

Conner Moore, 20, who is taking a semester off from Moberly Community 
College, said he and his friends started smoking K2 after reading 
online news articles and postings about the substance. He compares 
the high to smoking medical marijuana. The high, he says, is shorter.

"We just got on forums and looked it up and saw what other people 
said about it," he said. "Obviously if it comes out being bad, I'll 
obviously stop using it," Moore said. "There's really no sites out 
there that says what is in K2."

Could It Be Toxic?

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.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for 
the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said K2 isn't much discussed within 
marijuana culture.

"If government is genuinely concerned about controlling 
cannabis-related products, there is really only one thing that seems 
to have an effect: a tax stamp," St. Pierre said. 
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