And Even Kill
BY KEN LITTLE
It's alternately known as K2, Spice, Demon and by dozens of other names.
Law enforcement officials say the word "trouble" could also be applied to the mix of chemicals, herbs and spices that many young people believe provides a high similar to marijuana.
The variation of ingredients in the compounds can provoke a reaction that leads to the hospital emergency room, or worse.
That's what happened to the 16-year-old stepson of a Greeneville woman less than two weeks ago.
"He smoked some of this stuff, and he started throwing up. I rushed him to the emergency room, and they flew him by Wings to Johnson City Medical Center," said the woman, who asked that she and her stepson not be identified.
The teenager spent 36 hours in the hospital and may have suffered permanent damage to his lungs and other organs.
He was found lying in the grass in the front yard of a Greeneville residence "convulsing and throwing up," the woman said.
"It was very serious. It was very scary," she told The Greeneville Sun a few days ago in an interview.
"It's a really bad new drug that is out there, and there's just no information on it. You have to be 18 to buy it, but they sell it to minors."
ILLEGAL UNDER FEDERAL LAW
The federal government, through the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, made K2 and five chemicals used to make it illegal earlier this year, but variations of the drug remain available online and in some businesses.
Despite the "not for consumption" warning, the DEA banned the sale of products like K2, which contain herbs and spices sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
"Fake pot" substances use chemicals to purportedly replicate the effects of marijuana.
The mixtures were in a kind of legal limbo for years, with many states lacking laws to deal with them. The DEA says the chemicals have provoked reactions that include seizures and hallucinations, and that they pose a threat to public health and safety.
The drug, or variations of it, are turning up with increased regularity in Greene County, Sheriff Steve Burns said this week.
"Any drug out there, if you change the chemical formula by one molecule, it becomes a designer drug, and it doesn't fit into existing laws," Burns said.
PSYCHOACTIVE 'BATH SALTS'
Another dangerous substance known as "bath salts" is also popular. The drug has nothing to do with any personal hygiene product, and is supposed to mimic the high produced by cocaine or methampetamine.
In the wake of a growing number of overdose visits to emergency departments, the DEA moved in September to make psychoactive "bath salts" a controlled substance.
Until recently the substance was easily obtained over the Internet. "Bath salts" are sold under names such as Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky.
Taken orally, the drug is rapidly absorbed and produces a rush that peaks at about 90 minutes after ingestion and lasts for three to four hours.
Physical effects include hypertension, heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), hyperthermia, seizures, stroke, myocardial infarction, and even death.
Behavioral and mental effects include panic attacks, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, psychosis, aggressive or violent behavior, suicide attempts, and insomnia, anorexia, and depression.
PRODUCERS NOT REGULATED
Burns, who is immediate past president of the Tennessee Sheriff's' Association, said law enforcement authorities in Middle Tennessee have experienced numerous problems with the drug. He said the same has been true, to a lesser extent, in East Tennessee.
"The DEA is trying to get some legislation passed to help stop the manufacturers of
some of these things," Burns said.
Producers of K2 are not regulated and are often unknown since the products are often purchased on the Internet in wholesale or retail quantities.
Some of the websites are based in China, according to the DEA, and some products may contain a herb called damiana native to Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Synthetic marijuana has spurred calls to poison centers from 49 states and the District of Columbia. In 2010, poison centers reported nearly 3,000 calls about the products, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).
The products are typically marketed as incense or potpourri and sell for about $30 to $40 for a three-gram bag, according to the AAPCC.
STATE LEGISLATURE ACTED
The Tennessee General Assembly joined other states this year and passed a bill that makes it illegal to knowingly produce, manufacture or distribute the active chemical ingredient that mimics THC in marijuana.
The law took effect on July 1.
State Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, was a co-sponsor of the bill.
"I got wind that there may be shops that are selling this synthetic form and they may not be educated about the legality of doing that," Hawk said.
"I have gotten calls and concerns from constituents over the last couple of years about the presence of synthetic marijuana in retail stores"
That's definitely the case around Greeneville, said the mother of the teenager who experimented with K2.
"I just don't think a lot of parents know the dangers of this stuff," she said.
'LIKE RUSSIAN ROULETTE'
K2 was first developed in the laboratory of Clemson University chemist John Huffman. Its active ingredients are synthetic cannabinoids, chemicals that imitate the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Huffman said in a 2010 interview with ABC News that the chemicals were designed as "research tools" and never intended for human consumption.
"Anybody that tries it is like playing Russian Roulette," Huffman said.
"You don't know what you're getting. It's just insane. Anybody who uses it is out of their tree."