Imagine spraying dry herbs with unknown chemicals and then smoking them? That's what some youth are doing to get high from what is known on the streets as "spice" or "K2," a synthetic marijuana product sold at convenience stores and smoke shops. However, instead of the typical marijuana-like effects, many youth are turning up in Emergency Rooms with rapid heart rates, elevated blood pressure, severe agitation, anxiety and vomiting.
The product is growing in popularity because it is legal, purported to give a high similar to marijuana and believed to be natural and therefore safe. But researchers say synthetic marijuana is really an unregulated mixture of dried herbs that could contain toxic chemicals.
"K2 may be a mixture of herbal and spice plant products, but it is sprayed with a potent psychotropic drug and likely contaminated with an unknown toxic substance that is causing many adverse effects. These toxic chemicals are neither natural nor safe," said Anthony Scalzo, M.D., professor of toxicology at Saint Louis University who also directs the Missouri Regional Poison Control Center.
Dr. Scalzo said he has seen nearly 40 cases involving teenagers who were experiencing severe agitation, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, vomiting and, in some cases, hallucinations, tremors and seizures. All of these teens had smoked synthetic marijuana. He noted that because the product ingredients aren’t listed on the packaging, smoking it is a major gamble.
In Kansas, synthetic marijuana has been banned and several other cities and states, like Delaware, are considering banning the product.
Further testing is needed, but Dr. Scalzo says the symptoms, such as fast heart beat, dangerously elevated blood pressure, pale skin and vomiting suggest that K2 is affecting the cardiovascular system of users. It also is believed to affect the central nervous system, causing severe, potentially life-threatening hallucinations and, in some cases, seizures. While JWH 018, a synthetic man-made drug, similar to cannabis, may be responsible for the hallucinations, Scalzo suspects that there is another unknown toxic chemical being sprayed on K2.
K2, also known as "spice," has been sold since 2006 as incense or potpourri. It sells for approximately $30 to $40 per three gram bag, which is comparable in cost to marijuana, and is available over the Internet.