Legal product compared to marijuana; state considers ban
An herbal product known as "K2," "spice" or simply "legal pot" is readily available and in high demand in Chicago head shops, despite warnings from health and drug-enforcement officials that smoking the herb may be dangerous.
For now, K2 is completely legal in Illinois. Since about 2006, it has been marketed as either incense or potpourri, but the herbs in the product are sprayed with a synthetic chemical similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is found in marijuana. Many say that when K2 is smoked, it's similar to smoking a joint.
"You have these products that were not meant for human consumption that are being used for human consumption because they reportedly have effects similar to THC," said Will Taylor, public information officer for the Chicago office of the Drug Enforcement Administration. "Some of it is even more potent than THC. What has happened is a lot of these products aren't produced in the U.S. but in foreign countries. They're uncontrolled and unregulated, so they may have unknown effects on the human body."
Last month, lawmakers in the Illinois House passed legislation that would classify K2 as a controlled substance. That bill awaits Senate approval. Kansas was the first state to ban the product, and Missouri lawmakers are considering a similar prohibition.
"We've got to get out ahead of the curve," said state Rep. Raymond Poe, a Springfield Republican who sponsored the Illinois legislation. "We're just trying to protect people a little bit against themselves."
The most common active ingredient in K2, JWH-018, was first synthesized in the 1990s by Clemson University scientist John Huffman. The researcher said he believes the federal government should ban the substance because of the dangers it presents.
Anthony Burda, chief specialist for the Illinois Poison Center, said the center started getting calls about K2 late last year. He said that in the last six to eight weeks, the center has fielded 20 to 30 calls, mostly from emergency room doctors.
Burda said the patients, typically in their late teens or early 20s, experienced anxiety, agitation and nausea and needed four to eight hours to recover.
"We consider it a drug of concern," said Taylor, of the DEA. "We're aware that it's out there and it's an issue, but at this time we don't have any regulatory authority over it."
In Chicago, K2 can be found for about $60 per 3-gram packet. Chicago police say that's about three times the street value of marijuana.
By Tracy Swartz
April 20, 2010
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‘K2’ herbal product in demand, despite warnings