banning or debating bans on K2 — a packet of herbs coated with a
synthetic chemical that mimics a marijuana high when it's smoked — amid
fears that its use is spreading among young people.
K2, also known as "Spice," is sold online, in
convenience stores and in herbal or spiritual shops, and is usually
marketed as incense. The herbs, which sell for as much as $35 an ounce,
have emerged as a popular, legal alternative to marijuana among
teenagers and college students.
Clemson University chemist John Huffman, a
research professor whose graduate students synthesized the substance in
his lab 15 years ago, says the chemical may be harmful. "It shouldn't
be out there," he says.
Anthony Scalzo, director of the Missouri
Poison Center in St. Louis, notified poison centers nationwide about K2
the first week of February after doctors in Missouri reported patients
sickened from it.
"At first we had about a dozen cases, but then
it really blossomed. By the first week of April, we had 40 cases,"
Scalzo says. "Missouri remains the epicenter, but it's spreading out."
Poison Centers nationwide have reported 352
cases in 35 states since the initial report, he says. Patients often
have a rapid heart rate, dangerously high blood pressure and sometimes
hallucinations or paranoia.
The Drug Enforcement Administration
considers K2 a "drug of concern," spokesman David Ausiello says. "We're
in the early stages of trying to figure out how potent it is."
The Sacred Journey, a medicinal herb store in
Lawrence, Kan., had sold K2 starting in August as part of a collection
of incense, owner Natalie McAnulla says. Store sales skyrocketed from
$1,000 a day to $10,000 a day.
Kansas banned the drug March 10. Kentucky
followed April 13. Alabama's ban takes effect July 1. Legislatures in
Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee have passed bans that will take effect
unless vetoed by their governors. Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New
Jersey and New York are considering bills to outlaw the drug.
Illinois Rep. Raymond Poe, a Republican from
Springfield, introduced a bill to ban the drug after hearing a news
report about kids in St. Louis who became ill after smoking K2. "We
ought to be ahead of the curve before we have some sort of epidemic,"
Poe said. "It can be more potent than marijuana."
A cluster of Arkansas towns also banned K2, including: