published Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Lawmakers hope to snuff out fake pot

Audio clip

Rep. Jay Neal

Audio clip

Dr. John Huffman

It's labeled K2 on the bag. Some call it gold spice, silver spice or even skunk. And the Georgia Poison Control Center calls it "scary spice."

It's K2, a legal, synthetic version of marijuana.

"When the calls started coming in, we didn't know what it was," said Dr. Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Control Center. "People who smoke marijuana don't end up in the hospital."

Both Tennessee and Georgia lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would make K2 a controlled substance.

While local police and doctors can't verify if K2 is being sold in Southeastern Tennessee and North Georgia, it is sold in Nashville, Atlanta and Memphis. Made primarily in China, it's sold in smoke shops, convenience stores and on the Internet for $30 to $40 a bag.

A 20-year-old University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student, who buys K2 off the Internet, said he has to smoke more K2 than marijuana to get high. He wished to remain anonymous based on the sensitive nature of the topic.

After he watched some of his friends pass out from K2, he stopped using it, the student said. But he said making one type of synthetic drug illegal won't fix the problem.

"It's just one of many," he said. "You can ban one, but they can pop out another one."


The K2 compound was developed in the 1990s when organic chemist John Huffman of Clemson University was doing an experiment to produce synthetic cannabinoids and came up with a compound he named JWH-018.

Dr. Huffman published his work in 1998, then wrote a chapter with details on the compound for a book published in 2008. After that book was published, K2 began appearing in European stores and eventually made its way to the United States.

"I thought it was sort of humorous originally," Dr. Huffman told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "But since I've heard the reports of people getting sick, I don't think it should be used."

The most common way to make K2 is to spray the chemical compound onto spices, dry the mixture and bag it. But the compound can be made only with ingredients from a scientific lab, Dr. Huffman said.

As the fake pot's popularity spreads, police say their hands are tied to control it.

"We know it's out there, but there's nothing we can do about it," said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent John Bankhead.

K.J. Jordan, special agent in charge of the Middle Tennessee Drug Investigation Division, said K2 is "not marijuana and it's not cigarettes, so kids are getting a free pass."

pending legislation

Shelby County Drug Court Judge Tim Dwyer said he began to notice in January that several of his 250 drug rehabilitation program participants were substituting K2 for marijuana.

"I don't want them to substitute one drug for another," Judge Dwyer said.

After Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, heard about the problem Judge Dwyer was having, he introduced Senate Bill 2982. If enacted, the bill would broaden a Class A misdemeanor offense to include anyone who knowingly produces, distributes or possesses synthetic cannabinoids, Mr. Tate said.

The bill now is pending in the House after unanimously passing the Senate on March 8, records show. An identical bill in the House is on the calendar for the Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee for March 28.

In Georgia, state Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, introduced HB 1309, which would add synthetic marijuana to the state's list of controlled substances. That bill is pending in a House committee.

After introducing the bill, Rep. Neal said he heard about several Roswell, Ga., teenagers who were in intensive care after using the drug, which made the issue more important to him.

"There's a lot of interest about keeping it out the hands of young people," he said.


No one knows exactly how toxic K2 components are, because experiments have been done only with lab mice, Dr. Huffman said. Synthetic substances also can stay in a person's body for weeks and have long-term effects, he said.

"It's dangerous and should not be used," Dr. Huffman said of K2.


K2 is a chemical compound with a similar consistency to marijuana that is sprayed on or mixed into spices. The spices then can be rolled and smoked, similar to a marijuana cigarette. Organic chemist John Huffman of Clemson University created the sythetic compound JWH-018 in the mid-1990s. In 2008, when a book published details of its makeup, the drug K2 began to appear in European stores.

Source: Dr. John Huffman

Nashville authorities said cases of users being hospitalized are popping up in the area.

"Within the last month, we started to notice it," said Donna Taylor, a Tennessee Poison Center certified specialist.

The Nashville center has received about 10 emergency calls related to K2 use, Ms. Taylor said. Users are experiencing higher anxiety and more seizures from use of the synthetic drug compared with natural marijuana, she said.

In Georgia, the poison center has dealt with about 20 cases of K2 users who have ended up in the emergency room, Dr. Lopez said. It's alarming, he said, that there are spikes in blood pressure and heart rate among 15- to 18-year-olds who are smoking the spices.

"We don't know anything about the potential intoxicants that are in the chemical process," he said.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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Aubree88 said...

They are delusional for thinking a ban is going to stop people from getting their hands on this stuff. I wish people would be more careful though. My friends were telling me about some sort of blueberry K2 incense and I googled it and found out it is counterfeit. Apparently there are only a few authentic blends so the list of fakes is scary long and they don't quite know what is in those, It's worth checking out if you buy this or know someone who does. Stay safe.....

September 15, 2010 at 4:07 p.m.

Spice is actually scary stuff. The JWH-018 they use in it is not for human consumption, and it's effect is WAY more powerful than pot. Pot is much safer than this crap. Ban away!

September 22, 2010 at 2:23 p.m.
whatever said...

I'd rather they just let us go natural instead of fighting that useless war.

Then this one would be less desirable since it's so much more trouble.

September 22, 2010 at 2:35 p.m.
harrystatel said...

Another scare to promote the "War on Drugs." It's a free pass for governments to take more draconian measures, give law enforcement more money and power, more asset forfeitures, and give lawmakers another reason to clamp down on individual liberties.

All in the name of safety, security, law and order. More BS.

Harry Statel

September 22, 2010 at 3:03 p.m.
ashbash584 said...

It's nerve-wracking how some people are so ban happy. It should be crystal clear by now that prohibition just doesn't work. Well, for anyone but the black market drug peddlers, that is. They are having a field day with this k2 incense stuff. Apparently there is loads of counterfeit floating about already. This site even offers rewards for reporting it. FDA regulation doesn't mean much to me as they are constantly approving toxins for human consumption. Go research some of the ingredients in your extremely processed "food".

October 22, 2010 at 1:11 p.m.
hollybug80 said...

I most definitely feel there should be age restrictions, as there are, with tobacco and alcohol products, but really, what do they hope to accomplish by banning these substances? These guys claim to have k2 incense products that are legal in every single state, so you see, these bans aren't so effective are they?

November 19, 2010 at 3:55 p.m.
ibmethatswhoib said...

Stay with pot, legalize it and the states will learn how to make money fast for sure. If you made pot legal it would be so much safer and regulated then you wouldn't have as many people trying this legal fake crap.

April 4, 2011 at 2:27 p.m.
chevelle71guy said...

Ya we just need to legalize pot and we won't have these problems or scares.

Eric Chattanooga Best Laptops Under 500

April 5, 2011 at 6:23 p.m.
pinnacle1 said...

K2 seems really scary if you think about it. It would be best to legalize pot to avoid people from going after more harmful substances like this.

Kevin,best laptops under 500

June 16, 2011 at 9:25 p.m.
teaykung31 said...

Apparently there are only a few authentic blends so the list of fakes is scary long and they don't quite know what is in those, Promote

June 19, 2011 at 8:11 a.m.
teaykung31 said...

If you made pot legal it would be so much safer and regulated then you wouldn't have as many people trying this legal fake crap. Watches

June 21, 2011 at 4:38 a.m.
mima73 said...

every chemical drug has potential to used as a harmful thing for human body. mima,link text

September 2, 2011 at 1:24 p.m.
mommahen said...


September 22, 2011 at 2:53 a.m.
bopnam said...

In a previous post, we discussed a new, controversial product that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency decided to ban. Some might know the product as Spice, K2, or herbal incense. For the most part, however, lawmakers are referring to the drug as synthetic marijuana.

November 12, 2011 at 4:01 a.m.
bopnam said...

Because the federal ban is possibly only temporary, Colorado lawmakers are in the process of preparing for its potential return to the market. The Senate was supposed to have voted this week on whether to outlaw the synthetic marijuana and label violations related to the product as felonies in the state.

November 12, 2011 at 4:02 a.m.
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