Pubdate: Sun, 29 Aug 2010
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2010 The Charlotte Observer
Author: Thomasi Mcdonald


K2 Is A Legal, Though Possibly Dangerous, Synthetic Cousin To

As college students return to school in Charlotte and the Triangle,
some are cracking open lip balm-size jars and plastic bags of a legal
herb product that mimics the effects of marijuana.

K2, or "Spice," is a lab-made leafy green drug that looks and smells
like oregano, with hints of blueberry, citrus and other flavors. The
designer drug is showing up at tobacco and head shops, misleadingly
labeled as "incense." The labels also inform buyers that the contents
are not fit for human consumption, but behind closed doors the
"incense" is being puffed as a legal alternative to marijuana.

K2 and similar products have been outlawed in six states this year,
including Tennessee, and six other states are considering banning the
products. The Marine Corps has asked shops near its N.C. bases not to
sell the product to their troops, and the man who created the drug in
a research lab warns of such side effects as increased heart rate and
blood pressure and unpredictable effects on mood.

The synthetic drug was created in the early 1990s, but started showing
up in tobacco and convenience stores in the U.S. late last year. Bert
Wood, chief executive officer of the N.C. Partnership for a Drug Free
North Carolina, had to Google "K2" when he was asked about his
organization's stand on the product.

"I have never heard of it," Wood said. "But here's the big picture:
Since cave people hit two sticks together to get sparks, we have
looked at ways to feel different. If K2 mimics the effects of getting
stoned, then we are not encouraging young people to use it."

At least one N.C. legislator says he intends to introduce a measure
early next year to ban the product.

Sen. William Purcell of Laurinburg sponsored a bill in 2009 that
outlawed salvia, another herbal product, with hallucinogenic effects
comparable to those of LSD and psilocybin.

Purcell said he heard about K2 a couple of months ago. He says if he's
re-elected this fall, he will take a look at K2.

"I'll probably take a look at it and get more information," he said
from his Scotland County home. "Then we will see if something needs to
be done about it."

In the meantime, the drug is flying off the shelves of stores that
carry it.

'Selling like crazy'

"It's selling like crazy," said R.J. Crumpler, an employee at the
Hazmat shop near the UNC Chapel Hill campus. "More than cigarettes,
more than pipe tobacco, posters or T-shirts."

The prices vary, depending on the potency of the product. At
Infinity's End in south Charlotte, where several brands of K2 are sold
as incense and "not for human consumption," it sells for $3 to $20 a

Crumpler figures his Chapel Hill store sells at least 20 grams a day.
"It's more than that on some days," he said.

It relieves back pain

Blake Tippett, 26, is one of Hazmat's regular K2 customers. Tippett is
back in school at UNC Chapel Hill this semester after leaving in 2007
when he hurt his back and underwent two surgeries.

Tippett said he finds it "rather interesting" that K2 is legal but
thinks that will change quickly. Last week, he purchased about 6 grams
of "Black Mamba," another powerful herb product. Tippett, who wants to
work as a journalist when he graduates, said he's not happy about the
prospect of K2 being outlawed.

Tippett said he smokes synthetic marijuana because it helps relieve
the pain from back injuries that ruptured one disc and herniated another.

"I'm in the category of those people who smoke because it has helped
to make me a healthy, 200-pound person able to walk around without
wearing a back brace," he said.

Tippett said K2 and synthetic marijuana products like Black Mamba have
helped his back pain "more than any other opiate under the sun."

A potent, brief high

N.C. State University sophomores Ethan Haynes and Kevin Catts haven't
given much thought to the potential medical benefits of synthetic
marijuana. They say they puff on K2 because it's fun.

Haynes and Catts strolled into the Kitsch smoke shop in Raleigh last
week and went straight to the front counter where the shop features a
full line of the herbal incense products. They pored over the K2
offerings: Standard, Spice, Blueberry, Blonde and Funky Monkey, before
choosing the Summit brand, which sells for $30 a gram.

Haynes says that students allover NCSU's campus are puffing on K2 and
that he smokes it about once a week. He said the high kicks in about a
minute after a couple of puffs. The high, although more potent than
marijuana's, is short-lived - about 30 minutes to an hour.

Developed in a lab

The substance in K2 that mimics the effects of marijuana is known as
JWH-018. It was first developed in the summer of 1993 by John Huffman,
an organic chemist at Clemson University.

Huffman developed the substance while looking for new pharmaceutical
products similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active
ingredient in marijuana. The J, W and H in the substance's name are
Huffman's initials. The "018" acknowledges that the compound was the
18th cannabinoid that the lab developed. (Cannabinoid refers to the
organic chemical substances in cannabis, or marijuana.)

Last week, Huffman said his work did not lead to the development of
any new legal medications. He did not receive a patent for his
invention, and he did not sell the formula, which creates "a pale amber goo."

 From JWH-018 to K2

So how did the compound wind up being sprayed as a light mist on dried
leaves and sold as synthetic weed on the Internet and in head shops
and tobacco stores countrywide?

"I assume that someone with some scientific knowledge found it in a
publication in a scientific journal," Huffman said in an e-mail last
week. "It is inevitable that psychotropic compounds will find their
way into commerce. There are greedy and irresponsible individuals
worldwide. This is just another example."

Huffman added that he receives no royalties from the sales of K2 or
any other product that uses his formula.

Terrie Sonya of Granite City, Ill., offers K2 for sale at her website, Sonya, who also sells the product out of a liquor store
she owns, claims that she did not know people were smoking it as an
alternative to marijuana.

"I really don't know what people are doing with it when they take it
out of the door," Sonya said. "We market it as incense and sell it as

More kick than grass

Huffman described the effects of the substance he developed as
"considerably more potent" than marijuana. He warned that the product
increases users' heart rate and blood pressure and has unpredictable
effects on one's mood.

So far, there has been no research to determine the long-term effects
of smoking K2.

However, a New York Times blog last month fielded comments from
readers who reported experiencing seizures, paranoia and heart
problems after smoking the drug. The blog writer, Malcolm Gay, stated
that the comments "are likely representative of the over 500 reports
made to poison control centers across the country this year."

After Catts and Haynes, the NCSU students, bought that bag of K2 last
week, they mulled the possibilities of their next purchase.

"Funky Monkey," Haynes suggested to Catts. "We should try that the
next time." 
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