A legal pot gets the attention of police

By Terrapinzflyer · Nov 4, 2009 · ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer
    A legal pot gets the attention of police

    It burns like marijuana, works like marijuana and it sort of looks like it, too.

    And it’s perfectly legal.

    It’s called K2, and area police confirm that the little bags of dried herbs are starting to pop up among teens and young adults.

    Although it may be new on the local drug scene, K2 and similar brands have the attention of a Kansas lawmaker who said she would consider outlawing the substance. That’s because the health risks of smoking one of these dubious doobies is unknown. Some European countries already have moved to ban it.

    “It is new on the scene here,” said Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Erickson. “It’s just been a few weeks since we found out it was being sold locally.”

    Available for sale online and at a store in Lawrence, K2 comes in a small pouch. Inside is a mix of dried herbs that look like oregano but are laced with chemicals designed to mimic the effects of marijuana. Other brands go by the names Spice, Genie and Zohai.

    Because the active ingredients are just a few atoms away from the real thing, the synthetic stuff isn’t covered by laws banning marijuana. This means K2 and similar products are legal — even though the effects are identical to pot.

    Johnson County police first discovered the drug was being used by ex-convicts on probation. They turned to K2 hoping it wouldn’t show up on drug tests as marijuana. Now police are finding it in high schools.

    The Sacred Journey, a botanical store in Lawrence, sells bags of K2 for $15 to $30. A store manager declined to comment, but an employee said K2 should be burnt as incense and isn’t meant to be smoked. A competing brand is marketed online as “plant food.”

    The Johnson County Crime Lab ran an analysis on K2. Although it tested negative for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, it was positive for synthetic cannabinoids. These are chemical compounds created in a lab that act on the brain like THC.

    K2 contains two synthetic cannabinoids created at Clemson University. Chemistry professor John W. Huffman said an undergraduate student working in his lab actually created one of the compounds, called JWH-018 after Huffman’s initials.

    Huffman said his research was designed to help find new pharmaceutical drugs and a deeper understanding of brain chemistry. He had no intention of inventing a new way to get high.

    “But I’m not the least bit surprised,” Huffman said. “If you make something illegal, like marijuana, people will look for an alternative.”

    Yet the fake marijuana may be more dangerous than the real McCoy, according to Huffman. He noted that unlike with marijuana, the risks of smoking synthetic cannabis haven’t been studied. His research suggests the compounds likely break down in the body into carcinogens.

    The manufacturer behind K2 and similar brands remains a mystery. No information is available about the company or individuals making the products. Huffman said he thought much of the new synthetic cannabis comes from labs in Asia.

    He suspects the manufacturer turns the synthetic cannabinoid into powdered or liquid form and mixes it with otherwise harmless herbs.

    Britain, Germany, Poland, France, South Korea and Russia have moved to ban the sale of synthetic cannabis within the past year. Kansas may not be far behind.

    State Rep. Peggy Mast, an Emporia Republican, hadn’t heard about K2 until informed by The Kansas City Star. But she’s worried enough to suggest the state should take action.

    “I would be very happy to sponsor a bill to make this illegal,” Mast said.

    Mast sponsored legislation a few years ago that outlawed the hallucinogenic plants jimson weed and salvia divinorum.

    Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Farkes worries that teens may assume synthetic cannabis is safe because it’s legal.

    “I’ve even talked with parents who say, ‘Oh, it’s completely legal so I don’t have a problem with my kid smoking it,’ ” Farkes said.

    But Huffman isn’t so sure outlawing his creation will help much.

    “You ban one and they’ll come up with another one,” he said.

    The Star’s Topeka correspondent


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  1. chillinwill
    Drug remains legal despite concerns

    People from around the Kansas City area are coming to Lawrence to buy a legal drug called K2 that gets them as high as marijuana, according to area police.

    Tom Erickson, a deputy sheriff for the Johnson County Sheriff’s office, said the office was one of the first to become aware of the drug. They said they first heard about it through criminals released on parole or probation who were using the smokable herb to circumvent the random drug testing process. Erickson said police studied the herb’s chemical makeup, which looks and burns like marijuana, and interviewed a number of people who have used the drug.

    “They say it’s the same type of high as standard street grade marijuana,” Erickson said.

    Erickson said each person the police spoke to said they thought K2 was at least as potent, if not more so, than marijuana — no one the police spoke to said K2 was any less potent.

    K2 is being sold at a downtown Lawrence shop, Sacred Journey, 1103 Massachusetts St. The product sells for about $10 per gram, although prices vary depending on the potency of the herb.

    Erickson said the police purchased K2 in Lawrence and brought it back to Johnson County to test the chemical breakup of the product. He said the tests suggested that K2 contained a synthetic version of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

    “It’s definitely not a form of marijuana,” Erickson said, “but it mimics the effects on the body,”

    A senior named John, who asked that his last name be withheld, said he was a regular marijuana smoker who decided to try K2 recently after hearing about it in the news.

    John said he thought K2 produced a bodily effect similar to marijuana but only tasted “OK.” He said there were a number of other reasons why he wouldn’t make K2 his drug of choice.

    “It’s a relaxing feeling, but it doesn’t have the head high of weed,” John said. “It’s nothing straight to the dome like weed.”

    John said he thought those who did not smoke marijuana regularly would find K2 to be more potent than he did. However, because of the price and availability of marijuana in the area, John said he would stick with the illegal product.

    “Great weed in this town is so readily available that I’d much rather just go to a dealer than some store,” John said.

    The synthetic form of THC found in K2 was discovered during research at Clemson University in South Carolina. John Huffman, Clemson research professor of chemistry, said one of his students discovered the chemical while studying the effects of pharmaceuticals on the brain. The student named the compound after Huffman’s initials, JWH-018.

    Huffman said though he did not personally study the bodily effects of K2, a group of collaborators at Virginia Commonwealth University studied the effects the drug had on mice and noted its similarities to marijuana.

    “It indicated that the compound was significantly more potent than THC,” Huffman said.

    Huffman said he would not recommend anyone consume K2 or drugs similar to it.

    “The problem with JWH-018 is that absolutely nothing is known regarding its toxicity or metabolites,” Huffman said. “Therefore, it is potentially dangerous and should not be used.”

    At this point, police said they agreed with Huffman.

    “At least with marijuana we know the short- and long-term health effects,” Erickson said. “It’s a terrible idea to ingest something that you don’t understand.”

    A senior named Spencer, who asked that his last name be withheld, said he occasionally smoked marijuana and tried K2 after friends recommended it to him.

    Spencer said he enjoyed smoking K2, but didn’t expect he would become a regular user of the legal herb.

    “I wouldn’t describe it as much as a high as a relaxed state,” Spencer said. “I think I’ll stick with the good ol’ fashioned marijuana when I want to get high,”

    Spencer said he didn’t think the legality of marijuana factored into his decision much because he smoked marijuana safely and didn’t expect to have any problems with the law in the future. Police said though K2 would show up on a drug test, it was still a legal substance so its presence wouldn’t be punishable. However, Spencer said he wouldn’t even smoke K2 if he was facing such a test.

    “I’d rather just keep smoking weed and take a masking agent,” Spencer said. “It’s easy to pass a drug test.”

    By Brandon Sayers
    November 11, 2009
  2. frankblank
    when i first found out about the jwh compounds, I couldn't belive a google news search turned up nothing. now there are two articles from kansas and one from the UK. still not exactly the media attention you would expect from a new, legal, drug.
  3. RoboCodeine7610
    I think they're really exagerating when they say that the effects are "identical to pot".It may be similar, but the only thing that's identical to pot is pot...

    Still, I think the reason why they're not in a hurry to outlaw it is simply because it cannot produce paper,plastics,clothes etc... like hemp can.So why would the corporations push the government to make it illegal? It's not like they care about your health.
  4. rawbeer
    I think it's kind of funny that Peggy Mast and co. bothered to outlaw jimson weed - which probably kills less people a year than lightning bolts - and I wonder if this law covered the tons of solanaceous plants with nearly identical properties, that aren't mentioned in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
    Anyway, it appears that K2 is no longer for sale, at least from online vendors. It's kind of a testament to the failure of the war on drugs that a legal and apparently fairly effective substitute for pot just can't find a real market, said market being so hyper-saturated with pot.
    And sadly ironic that synthetic drugs that are more dangerous than pot are nonetheless legal...well, at least we won't have to worry about another jimson weed epidemic.
  5. chillinwill
    Legal pot substitute gains popularity in Kansas

    “It gets you really high and it’s totally legal,” said Kyle Taylor as he took a long drag of a K2 cigarette.
    Taylor, a sophomore in psychology, is one of thousands of Kansans who have discovered K2, a new drug that is rapidly gaining popularity across the state.

    K2 is a legal marijuana substitute that has become popular in Lawrence and Kansas City over the last few months, and a number of K-State students have begun using the drug as well.

    Natalie McAnnulla, employee at Sacred Journey, an herb shop on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence that sells the drug, said K2 is a mixture of blue lotus, baybean and a number of other herbs. However, K2 does not get its potent effects from these herbs, but from two synthesized cannabinoids that are added to the mixture.

    Synthetic cannabinoids are very closely related to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical in marijuana which causes users to get high. However, because the chemicals in K2 are slightly different than THC, they are not covered by existing drug laws. According to a Nov. 3 Kansas City Star article, the chemicals were first synthesized by an undergraduate student at Clemson University under the supervision of chemistry professor John W. Hoffman.

    Users of the drug say K2’s effects are almost identical to those of marijuana, but there are some slight differences. K2 produces less of a mental high and a much more notable body high than smoking marijuana. The effects are in some ways more similar to the high from eating marijuana rather than smoking it.

    “The way I see it is when you smoke marijuana, it’s more of a head high, and when you smoke K2 your whole body feels high ... You just kind of melt into the couch and lay there for a while,” said Taylor.

    He said he felt in this way K2 was more potent than marijuana. Taylor said he felt it was possible to go to work or school high on marijuana , but didn’t think he would be able to do so after smoking K2.

    Chris, a senior in business who asked that his last name not be revealed, said the effects were “very similar” to marijuana. However, he said he did not think the high from K2 lasted as long as the high from marijuana.

    K2 was available in Manhattan for a very brief time: On The Wild Side in Aggieville sold it for about a week. Luke Johnson, an employee of On The Wildside, said they ordered K2 after receiving a number of requests that they begin carrying it. He said it was very popular while they carried it.

    “We couldn’t even keep up with demand if we wanted to,” Johnson said.

    Johnson said the store did not initially realize what K2 was used for and had believed it was simply an incense. He said the store decided to stop carrying K2 after reading several reviews online.

    “Once we heard all the controversy and bad stuff about it we decided to just ax it,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to condone anything.”

    Sacred Journey is the only store known to currently sell K2 in Kansas. The store sells four different types that range in price from $15 to $30, making the drug about half as expensive as marijuana of comparable strength.

    McAnulla said she did not know of any other stores in Lawrence or Kansas City that sold K2. However, she had heard of a store in Kansas City that was considering selling it. McAnulla said Sacred Journey began selling the drug in June or July and it has become very popular since that time.

    Taylor said he had to wait in a long line to buy the drug.

    “We went there as soon as the herb shop opened and there was a line out the door, and they were all in line for K2. The person working the desk came out and was like ‘Who isn’t here for K2? We can ring you up at the other register.’ And no one even moved,” Taylor said.

    K2 can also be ordered from numerous Web sites. Chris said friends had bought the drug for him from Sacred Journey, but recently he ordered it from K2fire.com. Taylor also said he knew people who order the drug online because it is cheaper when bought in bulk off the internet.

    K2 is popular among college and high school students. However, it has been particularly popular among people who cannot smoke marijuana because of their job or legal problems. Chris said he first learned about the drug from a friend in the army who must take drug tests.

    “I’m smoking it because I’m on probation,” Chris said with a laugh.

    Taylor also cited legal reasons for smoking K2, because he is currently awaiting trial for marijuana-related charges and anticipates he will have to take drug tests in the near future.

    A major concern many people have with K2 and other pot substitutes is the health effects of using the drug have not been studied.

    “I would definitely smoke pot before I’d smoke K2 because I think K2 is synthetic, and we don’t know the effects,” Chris said.

    Hoffman said in an interview with the Kansas City Star that his research indicates synthesized cannabinoids may potentially break down into carcinogens in the human body, and he felt it was important the effects be studied before people use it.

    While K2 may currently be legal, it is unlikely it will remain that way for long. The drug recently caught the attention of police in Johnson County when they found out a number of people on parole and diversion were using the drug.

    K2 has also caught the attention of Peggy Mast, a state representative for District 76. Several years ago, Mast sponsored a bill that outlawed Salvia Divinorum, an herb with short psychedelic effects that was also being sold in herb shops in Lawrence. In an interview with The Kansas City Star, Mast said she would be “happy to sponsor a bill to make this illegal.”

    The state legislature resumes session in January. It is likely Mast will sponsor a bill to make K2 illegal as quickly as possible, which means smokers might only have a few more months to enjoy K2 before their legal high goes up in smoke.

    Eli Neal
    December 4, 2009
    Kansas State Collegian
  6. chillinwill
    Herbal incenses scrutinized

    Buzz about a crop of herbal incenses capable of producing a marijuana-like high has some heads spinning as the substances begin to take root in Kansas.

    Considered legal in the state, the products are sold in a variety of blends that deliver a flowery aroma when burned. But law enforcement officials say some manufacturers are lacing incense with synthetic compounds that mimic marijuana when ingested or smoked.

    "It's more of a synthetic cannibinoid," said Topeka police officer Patrick Ladd, with the department's narcotics unit. "It's currently legal in Kansas, only because we haven't tested or explored the prosecution aspect."

    Sold under several names, including Spice Gold, Genie, Yucatan Fire and K2, the products don't contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical responsible for creating the high associated with marijuana.

    "It probably wouldn't test positive for THC," Ladd said.

    Ladd said reactions he has read about of people smoking the herbs have varied from a marijuana-like high with little or no reaction to powerful or bad reactions.

    The Journal of Mass Spectrometry in December 2008 published a report about synthetic cannibinoids that stated differences from batch to batch in the kind and amount of applied drugs that resulted in the risk of accidental overdosing, which occurred several times. Further, the report said nothing is known about how the body metabolizes the compounds, which may be toxic.

    Despite the unknown consequences, blends of the herb sold as K2 is in high demand by customers at The Sacred Journey botanical shop in Lawrence.

    Natalie McAnulla, owner of the store, said she took over the store in September but the shop already had been selling K2 and other "sacred herbs" under previous management.

    "It's been popular," McAnulla said. "Nobody here had a problem with it."

    McAnulla said customers must be 18 years old to purchase K2 and other sacred herbs at her store. While she said she has received several calls from the media about people purchasing K2 to get high, McAnulla said she doesn't condone the inappropriate use of items she sells.

    "As far as I knew, it was a new incense blend," she said. "We carry a ridiculous amount of incense here."

    In addition to K2's availability in Lawrence, the herb can be purchased legally at several sites on the Internet.

    K2Fire.com, which sells four different blends of K2 incense, lists several herbs contained in the packets, which sell for $10 to $30 per gram. The site touts the herb as "the most impressive blend of rare botanicals, extracts and herbs" designed to "draw you in and lift you up." K2incense.org, another distributor for the incense, claims to have warehouses in Kansas and Nevada.

    Despite the product's availability, virtually nothing is known about the manufacturer of K2.

    Kansas Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, said she planned to pursue some sort of legislation during the session regarding K2. Schmidt provided legislators attending a luncheon on Tuesday with copies of a newspaper article that said researchers are concerned about the drug because its toxicity and long-term effects aren't known.

    Chemical testing of several brands of herbal incense have shown to contain synthetic cannibinoid compounds or chemicals that mimic them, notably HU-210 and JWH-018, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency said in March. In addition, the DEA said there are at least half a dozen other compounds with similar makeups being used to adulterate the plant materials tested.

    John W. Huffman, a organic chemistry research professor at Clemson University in South Carolina, said Thursday in an e-mail that an undergraduate student working in his lab synthesized JWH-018 — one of the chemicals found in K2 and Spice Gold — during the summer of 1995.

    "I emphasize that this compound was not designed to be a super-THC," he said. "It is simply one of many compounds synthesized by my group and others for the purpose of investigating the relationship between chemical structure and biological activity. It should absolutely not be used as a recreational drug."

    Huffman's research is part of an effort to develop potential pharmaceutical products that may be used in the treatment of nausea, glaucoma and as appetite stimulants.

    Thomas Houston, owner of The Groove Shack, in Topeka, said he doesn't sell K2 because little is known about the product. Further, he said controversy surrounding K2 makes it an unattractive item.

    "I'm still leaning toward not selling it," Houston said. "I really don't have any idea about it. People started asking about it about a month ago."

    As with a hallucinogenic drug called salvia divinorum, which was outlawed in Kansas in 2008, Houston said he doesn't want to sell anything that may be banned or harmful to customers.

    "Even when salvia was legal, I didn't sell it because some of the things I heard about it," Houston said. "If it's legal and not hurting people, I don't have a problem with it. But it seems to be relatively new, and people don't know much about it yet."

    The U.S. Department of Justice said in July that the synthetic drug HU-210, which is found in "Spice" products, was found to be 66 to 88 times more active than THC when administered to rats and pigeons. It is considered a controlled substance in the United States. However, JWH-018, which is a chemical found in K2, isn't a controlled substance.

    Despite the lack of control of the herbal product, local law enforcement said it would attempt to keep K2 from being used as a recreational drug.

    "Since we haven't come across it, we haven't had to test the water as far as prosecution," Ladd said.

    Ladd said Topeka police may attempt to prosecute people smoking K2 under the state's existing statute regarding controlled substances, which may allow leeway for substances that mimic controlled substances.

    "If we ran across it or knew it was K2, we would probably try to charge under that statute," Ladd said. "Then let the chips fall where they may."

    Kevin Elliott
    December 6, 2009
    CJ Online
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