Legal, Synthetic Marijuana Pleases Pot-Heads, Upsets State Governments

By Andrew Moseman | July 12, 2010 12:59 pm

k2Around the United States, state governments are rushing to enact bans on K2, the hot new (and still mostly legal) drug made with synthetic cannabinoids: lab-created compounds designed to mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Often marketed as incense, K2 — which is also known as Spice, Demon or Genie — is sold openly in gas stations, head shops and, of course, online. It can sell for as much as $40 per gram. The substance is banned in many European countries, but by marketing it as incense and clearly stating that it is not for human consumption, domestic sellers have managed to evade federal regulation [The New York Times].

Missouri is the most recent state to move against K2, the origin of which dates back to the work of Clemson University scientist John Huffman, who was developing these synthetic compounds in the 1990s. Scientifically, the chemicals are interesting for their potential to mimic some of the pain-relieving aspects of marijuana, which advocates of medical marijuana legality point to, without the negative health effects that come with setting a plant on fire and inhaling the smoke. The chemical used in most varieties of K2 is called JWH-018.

Huffman was interviewed by The Guardian last year when K2 was spreading around Europe. Now in his late 70s, he seems to understand something that many politicians can’t seem to get through their heads: Risk-taking teenagers will go to about any length, legal or illegal, to get high. Huffman says he wouldn’t oblige the numerous enterprising types who asked him how to make his substances, and that the substances are always labeled not for human consumption. But he figured someone was going to figure it out sooner or later, especially considering the chemical doesn’t show up on drug tests.

JWH-018 was “nothing special”, Dr Huffman remembered, “but it was one of the more potent compounds we made, and it was quite easy to make from commercially available materials. Probably the reason it has now caught on…. My biggest surprise was that this all hadn’t happened sooner,” he told me. “All it needed was somebody with a reasonable understanding of science to see the papers we had published and think, ‘Aha!'” [The Guardian].

The hurry to ban K2 this year started after U.S. health officials began blaming the substance for more and more hospital visits.

There has been a significant bump in calls to poison centers concerning spice. Nationwide, the American Association of Poison Control Centers logged 567 cases across 41 states in which people had suffered a bad reaction to spice during the first half of 2010. Just 13 cases were reported in 2009 [Washington Post].

But the problem health officials and politicians keep running into is that there isn’t a single K2. What’s probably happening is that dealers buy a synthetic chemical online and then spray it on their own mix of herbs and leaves. They sell the result as K2, marketing it as incense with a wink and a nod, although both parties know it’s meant to be smoked.

Thus, it’s hard for medical responders to know what’s making all these people sick: It could be the dose of the chemical, its stability during combustion, how it’s metabolized, or something else in the mix. And if you’re trying to ban the stuff, how do you do it? If state legislatures outlaw JWH-018, there are scores if not hundreds of other synthetics there to take its place. Texas legislators may attempt to draft a bill that outlaws all possible synthetic cannabinoids, though how that wording will work is unclear.

Related Content:
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Image: Buy-K2-Incense

  • RevRayGreen

    no ADULT marijuana users 25+ even use this crap.

  • Nemesis

    @RevRayGreen

    I know some who do, although it’s just because they know they can’t fail a UA for it. I tried it once and felt light-headed. I’ll just stick with the old stand-by.

    @Andrew Moseman

    “Scientifically, the chemicals are interesting for their potential to mimic some of the pain-relieving aspects of marijuana, which advocates of medical marijuana legality point to, without the negative health effects that come with setting a plant on fire and inhaling the smoke. The chemical used in most varieties of K2 is called JWH-018.”

    Huh? K2 is also customarily ingested by smoking.

    How to get people to stop using it: decriminalize the real thing.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Andrew Moseman

    @Nemesis I was referring to the scientists’ intentions when they developed the synthetic chemicals: the idea that they could be used medicinally as a targeted pain reliever. Indeed, though, if you spray cannabinoids on some herbs and then smoke them, you still have the health effects of smoke inhalation.

  • Curt

    It is insane that in the year 2010, with all our scientific knowledge and supposed freedoms that Marijuana is illegal in most countries of the world.

  • Nemesis

    I guess they could make the chemicals available to consumers, but that sounds like trouble.

  • Eric H

    I agree with “Curt” that its 2010, and our governments along with the rest of the world are worried about marijuana and this synthetic stuff when there are drugs like methamphetamines on the street causing significantly MORE harm than cannabis or synthetic stuff will EVER DO! I say, crack down on the crap! Crack down on the stuff that REALLY matters! The drugs that tear families apart, cause gang violence, and ultimately death. You tell me how many homeless dug addicts are looking for a quick “cannabis” fix, 0-none! This is ridiculous now people! Gives us what we want! We got our cold beer, can’t we have our spliffs too?!

  • Big Bambu

    (game show buzzer)…EEEEHH! You’re wrong about that one ‘Rev’!
    As a long time weed smoker, I gotta say I was skeptical about ‘JWH’ blends myself,
    seeing those full page ads in HT magazine for decades, this stuff is as different as
    from those brands of s***weed sold by International Oddities.
    It works, it’s not as intense as White Widow, and doesn’t last as long,
    but I was VERY impressed with it nonetheless.
    Stay Skeptical, ‘just means more for us lol.
    Peace.

    [Moderator’s note: edited the cuss word.]

  • Cory

    I find it insane that we so readily accept that it’s the government’s job to protect us from our own decision=making and prevent us from doing things which only have the possibility to hurt ourselves.

  • JaberwokWSA

    You “users” need to tell me something. What is so wrong with your lives that you feel that a temporary and potentially dangerous escape from reality is needed to make you happy?

  • Joel

    JaberwokWSA: You obviously are over stating the amount of escape from reality marijuana provides. For me it makes videogames more fun.

  • jaxtarzan

    Here we go again letting the government dictate what we put in our bodies.

  • http://www.k2-incense.com Aubree

    k2 incense upsets our government, but they continually approve toxins like MSG and artificial sweeteners that lace the foods Americans eat on a daily basis. Don’t be fooled into thinking that they care about our health. I’m more afraid of the chemicals in my shampoo than some fake weed.

  • http://msn.com Walrusgajoob

    Well put, Aubree. Well put!

  • Neil

    I’ve heard (not sure the truth behind it) that in some cases whatever is in the chemical, or the mixed herbs have in some cases caused brain damage to single-time users of K2. I would think that would be cause for alarm, and more than enough cause to make it illegal.

  • J2

    If you are not going to use it, why the hell do you care? Get a life!

  • http://www.k2incense.org k2 spice

    Our government is a joke. They get their panties in a bunch over this, all while the FDA is approving toxins for use in american food.

  • http://fetlife.com/users/488865 Dr. Kink, Ph.D.

    The biggest problem with these “legal buds” is that you don’t know what the ingredients are, or even if they’re the same in every batch. If I’m going to put something in my body I wanna damn well know what it is.

  • MomOf2

    My husband put his foot down and told me it’s not worth the risk, even if I did it at parties, to smoke pot. This is my loophole! I’m over 25, and I’ve got two small children (who I’d NEVER smoke around no matter what it was) but I see no reason not to use it. It’s better than drinking, almost as fun as the real thing, and I’m not going to lose my kids if I get pulled over 2 weeks after doing it and I fail a UA unlike with pot. I’m for it. I did, however, have an allergic reaction to the herbs which was kinda scary, but it wasn’t serious. I definitely, if there were no repercussions, would take the real thing hands down. But such is not so, and when kids are involved I’m playing by the rules.

  • SickasADog

    I just got back from a party where I took ONE let me reiterate ONE hit of this Legal Weed. The brand was Mr. Nice Guy if I can remember correctly. I also had ONE let me repeat ONE drink tonight. That is ALL I had in my system. I smoke MJ on a daily basis. I have also smoked medicinal mj when I was in California and only smoke heady bud on the reg. Let me tell you what. MAKE THIS CRAP FREAKING ILLEGAL AND LEGALIZE MARIJUANA! After the one hit I went outside for a cig… couldnt even finish it because I started getting super dizzy. I then went inside and tried sitting on the couch. Then my friend came over and told me to lay down because I didnt look well and I asked for a trash bag. I could not even talk in full sentences. I felt like I had to puke so I got the motivation from God knows where to go to the bathroom. Girls were in there and thank GOD they were I projectile vomited into the toilet repentitively then I couldnt even talk. I was cohearant but my mouth did not work. I collapsed to the floor still able to hear but could not speak. I started having seizures. Then everyone started crowding the door I screamed as I was also having a panic attack. I layed there 30-40 minutes and then I got up and vomited more. After that and drinking some water because at this point I was dry heaving I started feeling better. I finally walked to my car and I went home… At this point I only felt super high like off of weed. Sitting there for about another 10 minutes I could drive. THIS S*** SHOULD NOT BE LEGAL! If I would have not had those girls taken care of me I could have EASILY been taken advantage of. Legalize MJ MAKE K12 Illegal. I dont give a crap what anyone says. If you get an allergic reaction it is BAD!

    [Moderator’s note: Edited the cuss word.]

  • SickasADog

    K2 rather… I apologize for my horrible grammar as I was still buzzed off of this crap when I wrote this. My experience was so horrific that I HAD to post as soon as possible on a public forum.

  • JD

    Sorry, but I’ll stick with the real deal. That only has one ingredient. This stuff is probably made as cheaply, and with the same type of household ingredients as meth. Its also putting people in the hospital. Rather than roll those dice, I’ll just stick with the all natural alternative.

  • Bastet

    I recently tied this stuff called Twisted D XXX. I was pleased with the results. It have me a regular high like marijuana. I’m wandering if that K2 stuff is more potent? I thought this legal stuff was a god send untill I started reading about the negative effects of K2. Now I’m scared. I’m wandering what’s up with this suff. Are they all the same? Is it an allergic reaction to only some people?

  • stevieod

    Mr. JaberwokWSA, I can say that there is not a thing terribly wrong in my life that smoking a little now and then doesn’t make better. Though I do wonder what kind of life do you lead that you can say staying sober makes the best choice. Just filling your day with useless activities doesn’t cut with me man, I need to enjoy, rejoice in this wonderful land of ours, feel the sun, smell the fresh air, I mean what can be bad about that? Sit and watch sports with your buds, card games, you name it, it goes better with a toke or two. Really. It’s nice to truly feel good about yourself, feel relaxed, at peace with yourself as you travel in your life. Yes, I can agree with you about certain people shouldn’t smoke, such as those under 18, and others, why not let the rest of us adults enjoy a nice smoke. I truly wish that everyone loosen up just a little bit, you just might really and truly enjoy life.

  • Wavioli

    We’ve recently gone through this whole issue in Ireland – although it wasn’t just about K2 or ‘Spice’, it was a whole rash of Head Shops that appeared almost overnight in every nook and cranny of the country, selling all sorts of legal alternatives; ‘herbal’ pills – BZP (this one got banned very quickly), but it wasnt long before many similar ones popped up to take it’s place; Methadrome (or Meow-Meow as it was also known) – which was a cocaine substitute; not to mention all sorts of other random trippy/amphetamine based copies.

    I tried the Spice and methadrome, not too impressed by either, but worryingly (and perhaps tellingly) a lot of people seem to still Meow-Meow after it was illegalised which seems to indicate that it is reasonably addictive. It was also labelled as plant food not for human consumtion.

    I wasn’t the biggest fan of how the government here dealt with these head shops – but something had to be done as there were no laws to stop kids as young as 12 from going in and purchasing these substances, which haven’t been tested and don’t have the years of practical experience that the more well known drugs do.

    I even heard one expert say that if you were going to do drugs then you should stick to the ol classics like ecstasy, cocaine or weed because at least we know what the side-effects are!

  • Franklin

    Spice…works. For those of us who constantly face UAs at work, it is the only way to get high, and thumb your nose at authority. Yes, the potency is all over the map. Mostly, you get what you pay for.

    But surprisingly, you do get a quick, steeply peaking stone, followed by a mellow letdown. No munchies, no suspicious odor. And if you get caught with it…well, it ain’t illegal, so screw you, John Law…

  • Franklin

    And to “sick as a dog”: Please. You are full of s***.

    If you had that kind of reaction you were smoking Salvia…not Spice.
    Know what you are doing, child.
    Don’t mix drugs and alcohol, then complain to the rest of us how BAD it is…

    [Moderator’s note: edited the cuss word.]

  • amanda420

    if the gov’t would legalize weed in the first place, we wouldnt be worrying about fake stuff and what harm it causes. the way i look at it is this…marijuana was put on earth for some reason (not to make hemp rope) what other purpose is the buds for? the american indians smoked the peace pipe, i think our govt should too. a lot of ppl die everyday in drunk driving accidents, but beer and liquor is still legal. i dont even smoke anymore but i think this stuff is stupid. why buy that when u can get the good stuff. pot is so much better for your health than any other drug or alcohol.

  • Caangeldt

    I agree with amanda420, if they legalize weed then the synthetic wouldn’t be made. Weed is all natural. Beer, Whiskey, cigarettes are all legal and they are man made killers!! How many accidents have you heard of from weed? How much cancer does weed cause? I do not trust the synthetic stuff, but it is also made for people that need it for PAIN, MEDICAL REASONS. I myself would rather have the all natural if I needed it for pain or any medical reasons than the synthetic that may have side effects!! Put age limits on it like they do alcohol and cigs!!! DUH!!

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