Drug Free Sport Staff Writers

Drug Free Sport Staff Writers

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

K2 Bursts Onto the Scene as a Dangerous New Drug

A new player in the street drug portfolio is drawing the attention of law enforcement officials, schools, medical professionals and athletic departments. The new substance, most commonly referred to as K2, is a synthetic compound that mimics the effects of marijuana. Its use is not easily identified. It has also been found under names such as Spice and Spice Gold. Because of its relatively low cost and legal status, this drug has become a popular way to get high.

The ingredients listed on a package of K2 incense are all herbs. The danger lies in the unlisted compounds known as JWH-018 and JWH-073. These compounds give K2 its mind-altering affect. JWH-018 and JWH-073 are synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of marijuana but, as of now, are not detected in routine urine testing. Users like the idea of getting the high of marijuana without being in danger of prosecution for drug use.

The substance initially was sold as an incense in coffee shops and gas station convenience stores but has now moved into herb stores, also known as head shops, according to Jeremy Morris, senior forensics scientist at the Johnson County (Kansas) Criminalistics Laboratory. While sold as incense, it is clearly intended for smoking, he said.

K2 smells and tastes horrible when it is smoked. Because of its unpleasant taste, new varieties such as K2 cherry and K2 grape have appeared. A person under the influence of K2 will appear much as someone using marijuana with characteristics such as reddening of the eyes and lethargy. Some internet forums indicate constant use can be addictive.

“The problem is the JWH compounds. They multiply the negative effects of marijuana three to five times. Symptoms include a racing heart, skyrocketing blood pressure and high anxiety,” Morris said. “They think their heart will explode. Clearly this is not something to fool around with.”

A teen in southwest Missouri experienced a seizure and became non-responsive within less than a minute of smoking K2. He spent about six hours in an intensive care unit and around 18 hours in the hospital. He was on oxygen and was almost put on a ventilator. There have been hospitalizations in Maine, Florida, Kansas, and Missouri.

Both the Olympic Analytical Laboratory at UCLA and the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake have samples of K2 where they are developing a plan to analyze the product.

Germany was one of the first places where products containing the JWH compounds were seen. Officials there encountered a large number of cases involving the version known as Spice in 2008 and moved quickly, making those products illegal under the German Narcotics Law in early 2009.

The state of Kansas became the first to outlaw K2 with legislation signed by the governor in early March. Neither K2 nor its ingredients are currently controlled substances in any other state or federal jurisdiction, so use of the drug is not illegal outside of the state of Kansas. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is monitoring JWH-018 and JWH-073 and has listed them as drugs and chemicals of concern. The Missouri legislature is expected to consider a bill in its 2010 session.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is monitoring K2 but their process for adding a substance to the schedule of controlled substances is a long process unless done on an emergency basis. Regardless of the legal aspects of K2, the drug has demonstrated health dangers and is not a harmless drug.

Contributed to by Sally Huggins, Insight Contributor (DFS newsletter)


  1. Quite interesting how they are concerned over the possible side effects of this stuff, yet it's perfectly fine for the pharmaceutical companies to run ads all day long on television for drugs that have a million and one
    potential side effects. Hmmm....

  2. the products that are shown on tv and sold by pharmacetical companies are tested and go through numerous studies. So we know the side-effects and what it can and cannot be mixed with. When it comes to this stuff we are in the dark and thus comes the concern.

  3. Sadly, criminalizing something people want won't help the larger issue of demand for an illicit substance. Merely look at the estimated 320 billion dollar drug trade (conservative estimate). Marijuana any where from 30% to 50% of that market. Clearly there is a disconnect between legislators and the people on the issue of drugs. Hell there is a 50 billion dollar black market for cigarettes of all things. Good athletes (should) know that smoking ANYTHING would be harmful to their performance.

  4. A few things to note:
    -Addictiveness can only be established through experimentation, with all other factors held constant. Forums are not a good place to conduct scientific study.
    -K2 can't be blamed for that suicide. If this were the case we can start shutting down all stills and breweries because an overwhelming number of suicide victims are at least slightly intoxicated when they pull the trigger. That kid would have to be disturbed in some fashion prior to this. As horrible as this sounds, the burden of suicide is on all of us. Usually someone doesn't actually cry out for help except to a select few (I.E. family, friends,)

  5. I will gladly tell u ppl if there are any side effects....for now they are munchies and red-eyes...

    1. Think of a person that you truly care about and love. No think of them dead. how would you feel if that person died because they decided to try k2 and their heart stopped. Its not worth your life to feel stupid for a couple of hours.