Lawmakers express concern over incense that allegedly brings high.
A Kansas legislator is warning southwest Missouri parents that young adults are smoking a legal incense with a questionable composition.
"It's time we step in and first of all, hope adults know how dangerous this can be," said Rep. Peggy Mast, a Republican state representative from Emporia, Kan. "It's alarming that young people are participating in something without knowing what's in it or the long-term effects it could have on them."
Distributors and retailers who sell K2 -- an herbal incense sold in pouches -- said it's legal to sell the product. But Kansas lab tests show the incense contains a synthetic chemical similar to marijuana. When smoked, it may be dangerous.
Sennethia Carmody, 20, is a Springfield resident who said she's smoked K2.
"I just got a nice little head change and got really mellow," Carmody said. "I had a tingly feeling throughout my body. I've heard of other people having bad experiences with it, but I haven't at all."
But others have reported medical problems as a result of the product.
A Polk County teen was reportedly hospitalized and remained unconscious for five hours after smoking K2, although specifics of that incident, reported by a local TV station, weren't available Thursday.
Carmody said she doesn't have a problem with moderate and responsible use of K2 to relieve tension. "I don't see anything wrong in getting high every now and then, especially with something legal like that," she said.
But Tom Erickson, a deputy from the Johnson County Sheriff's Office in Kansas, said being legal doesn't make K2 safe.
Erickson said their county drug lab found the herbal incense product does not contain just herbal ingredients.
"What we found in it was a chemical compound called JWH-018, which is a synthetic cannabinoid," he said. "So it's not just plant material, there's a chemical in it that we have found. It works on the same receptors in the brain that THC does."
THC is the narcotic compound found in marijuana. JWH-018, the synthetic compound, is not a controlled substance.
John Huffman, a professor at Clemens University in South Carolina, was the first to create JWH-018, for use in lab experiments -- not as an additive. He said the synthetic compound has never been tested on humans and could have toxic results.
"It should absolutely not be used as a recreational drug," he said in an e-mail.
Sid Popejoy, assistant director of the Crime Laboratory Division of the Missouri Highway Patrol, said the lab hasn't tested K2 but he's aware of it.
"We have gotten about two or three phone calls for information from school resources officers and people like that, but there hasn't been a whole lot of activity," he said.
Erickson said he's concerned that some will view a legal and seemingly organic product as a safe alternative.
"That's really the scary part of it -- we don't know what it will do to people," he said. "It could be very detrimental, but we don't know. As far as people using this as an alternative to marijuana, as far as we're concerned, it's just as bad, if not worse, because we don't know."
Mast said she and others plan to introduce legislation to ban the product in Kansas.
"They think that it's harmless and yet they don't know for sure what's in it," Mast said. "I'm not talking as much about the authorities as I am the consumers. Thinking that something that is unregulated, that has an effect on the brain, obviously thinking that is safe is irresponsible."
Michael Boeger, bureau chief of the Bureau of Dangerous Narcotics and Drugs in Jefferson City, said the federal government is aware of K2.
"The (Drug Enforcement Administration) is aware of the K2 marijuana substances out there that they are keeping an eye on or tracking, but they have not made them a controlled substance yet at the federal level," he said.
Missouri legislators are working on proposed legislation for the start of the Jan. 6 session. Although there have been other controlled substance list additions and changes, nothing about K2 is yet on the table.
Kansas' Mast said it's time to step in to protect consumers who may not realize what they're buying.
It's basically being sold in the head shops as incense, wink, wink," she said.
Tom Pierson, owner of Kaleidoscope at 1430 E. Sunshine St. in Springfield, said he's never sold K2.
"It's something we choose not to carry," Pierson said.
Stick It In Your Ear, 300 E. Walnut St., used to carry the product. Owner Wes Nichols said they stopped carrying it because he doesn't know enough about it.
Not all retailers in Springfield have made that decision.
"It's just an incense," said Nathaniel Cowen, owner of Mr. Eddies, 414 South Ave. "The government's trying to ban an incense? I mean, come on."
However, when a reporter for the News-Leader asked for the product at the shop, a clerk removed it from a secure box near the cash register. It was not with the other incense the shop carries.
Two other shoppers purchased the product during the News-Leader's visit. Neither were carded but the purchasers appeared to be age 18 or older.
"Since it is an incense, by law, you don't have to card, but we're all very responsible about it so we do card," Cowen said. "Because we're responsible, we don't want people abusing it because it is an incense."
Erickson said underage kids aren't the only ones using K2 for a legal high.
"We found, more than anything, a lot of the younger probationers are using that particular drug to still get a high and yet come up clean for THC on their drug screens," Erickson said.
Mr. Eddies sells a 3-gram bag of K2 for around $26. The bag does not describe the produce or warn against ingesting it. Several Web sites featuring K2 include disclaimers that the products are not for human consumption.
Cowen said K2 is popular in his shop and has helped him get through the tough economic times.
"They try to censor everything, it's just ridiculous," he said. "There's no point in them trying to censor something that's helping the economy and it's not hurting anything."
Bo Scott, a salesman and distributor for K2 Wholesale, a company that provides K2 to retailers, insists that there is no synthetic cannabinoids in the K2 products his company sells.
He added that the name -- K2 -- is a take on the second-highest mountain in the world. He called it a "high point."
"A lot of people are whining and crying about nothing," he said. "I mean alcohol, how destructive is alcohol? I'm not trying to say that anyone should be misusing these products, but it's a business."
There is one thing Scott and Mast can agree on: Parents should be the ones stepping in.
"It really boils down to the parents," Scott said. "Be a parent. Take care of your kids."
December 25, 2009
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