ST. LOUIS (St. Louis University) – In the last month, Anthony Scalzo, M.D., professor of toxicology at Saint Louis University, has seen nearly 30 cases involving teenagers who were experiencing hallucinations, severe agitation, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, vomiting and, in some cases, tremors and seizures. All of these teens had smoked a dangerous, yet legal substance known as K2 or “fake weed.”
According to Scalzo, K2, an unregulated mixture of dried herbs, is growing in popularity because it is legal, purported to give a high similar to marijuana and believed to be natural and therefore safe.
“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 Scalzo, who also directs the Missouri Regional Poison Control Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center.
What makes K2 so dangerous? Further testing is needed, but 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.
Do you really, really want to stop people from smoking K2? Legalize cannabis. Only prohibition could create a system where people are so desperate for access to a safe, effective, non-toxic natural relaxant that they’ll smoke a new, synthetic, untested substitute with no consistency of effect and control over the ingredients.
The other pressure leading people to K2 is employment pee testing, which detects a THC metabolite called THC-COOH. Current tests do not detect metabolites of JWH-018 and it would be prohibitively expensive for drug testing companies to begin to do so. Even if they did, JWH-018 is but one of many possible synthetic cannabinoids, so any attempt to police JWH-018 metabolites will just lead to an “arms race” where consumers keep trying newer, more exotic synthetic cannabinoids.