K2 is Illegal, But K3 Isn't -- and Kids Know It
Police, DEA can't keep up with new chemicals in knockoff products for a 'legal high'
In March, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration outlawed five chemicals found in so-called "fake pot" -- vegetable matter sold as incense or potpourri that people smoke to get what they were calling a "legal high."
Products like K2 and Spice were pulled from the shelves of stores that didn't want to get in trouble with the police.
But the shelves weren't empty long. New products, like K3, quickly took their place -- different chemicals, same story.
"When the DEA banned those five chemicals, the people who make this stuff were already geared up to replace it," Police Chief Charles Goss said. "They never missed a beat in having new stock ready."
Some teens and young adults embrace products like K2, which is marketed as herbal incense and labeled "not for human consumption," because they know that if they roll into cigarettes and smoke it, they get a high similar to marijuana.
But unlike marijuana, it's not the vegetable matter producing the high, but chemicals the plants are treated with.
The DEA identified the five chemicals used in the products and banned them for safety reasons. Since 2009, there have been an increasing number of reports from poison control centers and hospitals about the fake pot.
Side effects from using it include convulsions, anxiety attacks, dangerously elevated heart rates, increased blood pressure, vomiting and disorientation.
But makers of the products have simply replaced those five chemicals with new ones designed to produce the same effects. The knockoff versions were available as soon as the old ones were outlawed.
All police can do is make sure none on the banned chemicals are in the new products. Goss said Strongsville police routinely send samples to independent labs for testing.
"We monitor these places and make sure what they're selling is not on the list (of banned chemicals)," he said.
If it's not, the product can be sold.
"That's not to say it's not harmful -- it is. It's just not illegal," Goss said.
It's the same with "fake cocaine" -- products marketed as bath salts that users snort for a high like coke or methamphetamine.
The salts, which have nothing to do with traditional products used in bathwater, sell for about $20 a gram and contain a chemical called MDPV, which, when snorted, produces an intense high and hallucinations -- as well as tachycardia and hypertension.
"Higher doses of MDPV have caused intense, prolonged panic attacks in stimulant-intolerant users. Users have reported bouts of psychosis induced by sleep deprivation and becoming addicted after using higher doses or using at more frequent dosing intervals," the DEA wrote on its website.
The chemical is legal to sell. That could change, though -- both the Ohio legislature and the U.S. Senate have introduced legislation to make it a Schedule I narcotic.
But how long before knockoff chemicals replace it? Officials say it's a matter of making teens understand that being able to buy synthetic drugs doesn't mean they're fine to use.
“Young people are being harmed when they smoke these dangerous ‘fake pot’ products and wrongly equate the products' ‘legal’ retail availability with being ‘safe’,” DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said on the website.