Two weeks ago, most parents in York County had never heard of “K2” or “spice.”
But parents sat up after a York High School senior was rushed to the hospital after smoking “K2” two weeks ago. Laurel Garrelts, president of the Parent-Teacher Association Council, sent an e-mail alert to parents on Friday warning of the dangers of K2 Spice, a legal drug sold online, in gas stations and in convenience stores.
K2, also known as incense, is a legal, smokable drug made to mimic the effects of marijuana. The drug is sold as a mixture of herbs and/or spices sprayed with a chemical mixture with psychotropic properties. While it is marketed to produce the same mellow high as marijuana, it cannot be traced through drug testing. It is often called “fake pot,” but that’s doesn’t mean it’s harmless, according to Nadia Williams, project coordinator with the Historic Triangle Substance Abuse Coalition.
“It is not fake marijuana. It is literally a mixed bag with severe medical consequences,” she says.
The danger of K2 is that little is known about it. It was developed by a John Huffman, a Clemson University professor, as part of research for the National Institute for Drug Abuse, but was never tested on humans or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Few studies have been conducted about its effects, few regulations exist and users are typically unaware of the ingredients, Williams says. Depending on the synthetic compound in commercial brands, K2 can be anywhere from four times to 100 times more potent than regular marijuana. Usage of K2 has surged in the past six months between the West Coast and the Midwest; drug trends typically travel across the country west-to-east, she says.
Users who visit emergency rooms across the country have experienced hallucinations, seizures and/or tremors, comas or unconsciousness, vomiting, numbness or tingling, increased respiration rates, elevated blood pressures, elevated heart rates and increasing levels of anxiety, sometimes leading to panic attacks.
Garrelts says the students who smoked K2 at York High are all facing disciplinary actions; the student who went to the hospital suffered from hallucinations, high blood pressure and a speeding heart rate, but has now recovered. They purchased their K2 at the Raceway gas station on Route 17, but she says it’s available at gas stations across the county. “I don’t blame the gas station owners for selling it, because it is legal,” she says. It typically retails for between $30 to $50 for a packet of what looks like incense, and is sometimes marked as “not intended for human consumption.”
Garrelts says she’s spoken to about 20 teenagers who confirmed students are smoking K2. “The perception is that it’s safer because it doesn’t show up on toxicologist reports,” she says. “I think they think it’s rebellious. One teen said, ‘It’s not like I would leave it on my dresser to show my mom.’ At the same time, it is legal.”
York County Schools’ code of conduct bans smoking on school campuses, and also bans students from arriving to school under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Spokesperson Betsy Overkamp-Smith says the student handbook also bans facsimiles or lookalikes of drugs, which would include K2 Spice. Still, the division might add K2 Spice to the list of banned substances in the student handbook. “We are always looking to add provisions as needed to cover something new that would come up,” she says.
Garrelts says parents in York County were shocked to learn about the drug, but the PTA Council plans to host two parent information events in October with York County Schools, a pediatrician, a substance abuse psychologist and representatives from the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Department. The time and date have yet to be determined.
In the meantime, Garrelts encourages citizens to notify State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that Virginia should pursue passing some legislation against the drug. To contact Cuccinelli’s office, visit his website.