Perhaps named after the second highest mountain in the world, K2 is undoubtedly becoming a real issue with local law enforcement and has essentially left their hands tied in regard to ways to deal with a legal drug that produces the same effects as marijuana.
The buzz caused by the substance just beginning to be seen in the area was discussed at a recent meeting in Salem. Salem Police Chief Albert Roork said it hasn't became a problem in the area yet, but said that although no one would be arrested for possessing the substance or even smoking it, if a person is impaired and driving they could be arrested and charged with DWI-drugs if they can't pass a field sobriety test. He said, this is the same as if a person is impaired by a prescription that has been prescribed to them; driving impaired is illegal. He said he just learned of the substance a few weeks ago and said the main concern is not knowing what is actually in K2.
K2, Spice, Genie or Zohai are common brand names for the substance that is sometimes sold as incense. It is not only legal, but is also easily accessible, including being available locally in at least three locations. According to message boards and blogs posted on the Internet regarding K2 usage by many who have smoked the substance, they say it has stronger affects than those of marijuana, yet the high is shorter. It was apparently created for insense purposes. Local law enforcement has encountered the substance and Highland Police Chief Jeremy Stevens says it looks very similar to marijuana.
An incident at a local school was also, according to the student involved, related to K2. A spokesperson for the school said that although they had their doubts if the substance consumed by the student was actually K2, due to the fact that they never located the compound, the offense was treated as school policy mandates with a mandatory 10 day suspension. He said even though the substance is legal and he believes the student had seen recently aired television specials on K2, the symptoms were not the same as some he had heard were related to K2 consumption. The high school student began throwing books, and had a fit of rage then ran from the building. The school's administration maintains that any offense similar to a drug offense that impairs a person is treated exactly like a drug offense.
K2 is produced in both China and Korea and research shows that the herbs and spices from which it is created are sprayed during their growth process with a synthetic chemical compound similar in nature to THC. The chemical was laboratory created from the results of research on the chemical makeup of marijuana.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, studies in lab mice indicate the substance causes lowered body temperature, partial paralysis and the temporary inability to feel pain. The substance has been classified as a "drug or chemical of concern." The main issue with the compound is the unknown long term effects the K2 may have on the brain or its toxicity. The drug has been banned in most of Europe and the military has banned possession of the substance.
In an article that first appeared on Lifewatch, Dr. David Eichhorn, a chemist at Wichita State University analysed samples of the substance. He said, "One of the ingredients in there is one that would potentially get across the blood brain barrier and the reality is if you do play around with these types of compounds, you run the risk of seriously upsetting the balance in the brain."
The key ingredients of K2 are not even regulated by the United States. This is something that has prompted lawmakers in both Missouri and Kansas to consider legislation to regulate the compound or make it illegal. In Arkansas, the awareness of the problem came after legislators had met, thus making a law to outlaw the substance wait until next year. The main concerns with K2 include the fact that there is no quality control on the product and it is impossible to know what the ingredients are cut and processed with. Missouri has a bill proposed that would make possession of over 35 grams of the substance a felony that could carry a potential sentence of up to seven years, the same as those who possess marijuana. It seems attempts to make legal marijuana have succeeded only to shortly after be outlawed. Legislation in 2007 passed making salvia, a hallucinogenic sage plant sometimes sold as a legal marijuana alternative, illegal in many states. Many believe K2 will also follow suit in being outlawed.
According to an article that first appeared on the Associated Press Web site, at West Plains, Mo., a head shop that sells the product is located blocks from the school. Police attention was brought to the K2 when a teenager tried to steal the substance. West Plains Detective Shawn Rhodes gave this statement during his interview about the incident, "A-10-year old child could walk into a head shop and buy it. It's not tobacco; it's not regulated by anything. It would be like sending my 10-year-old into Walmart to buy potpourri."
Rhodes, who spearheaded the operation to make the community aware of K-2 also testified in the Missouri House of Representatives regarding the introduction to the proposed bill. Rhodes said the affects of the substance are unclear and may vary. He said one case in the area involved a high school student being sent by ambulance to the hospital. He said the student was lethargic and very incoherent. Although there is no strong proof the student smoked K2, upon further investigation, and interviews with fellow students, Rhodes said it was consistent with the effects of the substance. He also confirmed that in cases he has heard of, the affect is a stronger high than marijuana, but doesn't last nearly as long.
One of the stores in the area that sells the substance declined to comment, while another said it is a natural ingredient and sees nothing wrong with it, although they say it's purpose was for incense, not smoking. A local West Plains establishment that sells K2 says they do not sell to anyone under the age of 18, but do not see anything wrong with the substance.
Rhodes said road officers have came in contact with it. Because there is little testing on the substance and the fact that it doesn't show up on a breathalyser or urine testing, Rhodes said some specially trained officers can recognize the affects and that any kind of impairment and failure to pass field sobriety tests still result in DWI drug charges. He said he feels it is important to get the word out about K2 and said, " My main concern is that we educate people on this. We don't want to lose a kid due to a reaction to the stuff."
Although the strength of the chemical compound varies with brand, there is not doubt the danger these substances pose to area youth. The packaging is very similar in nature to any other energy type product and parents may not even be aware that their child or teen is using this product if it were in plain sight. So as parents, a heightened sense of awareness is a good way to combat usage of a substance many know little about.
Rhodes said because the substance is much bulkier in nature than marijuana, it is smoked from a pipe rather than rolling it like traditional pot. The presence of smoking devices is also something parents can also be aware of in combatting the use of this potentially hazardous compound.