K2 is a type of substance that is often called synthetic marijuana. It is also labeled herbal incense and both terms are misleading. Some products are called herbal smoking blend, which is the most accurate label, as this substance is most often taken in through smoking. Although K2 is legal in many places, there are great concerns over its safety and its potential role as a gateway drug, leading young people into real marijuana and beyond.
What is K2?
Of the multiple names for K2, herbal smoking blend is the most accurate, although still misleading. The word herbal implies that the mixture is natural, organic, or safe. While it may contain some natural herbs, the ingredients in K2 are not always clear and certainly contain synthetic chemicals produced in a lab. Although there are individual producers of this smoking blend and, therefore, the ingredients vary, K2 is essentially a product that is intended to mimic the effects of cannabis.
Also known as marijuana, cannabis is a plant that has been smoked for thousands of years because of its psychoactive effects and used for medicinal purposes. There are over 400 psychoactive compounds in cannabis, called cannabinoids. The main component that causes the user to get a high is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. K2 mixes include synthetic versions of some of these cannabinoids in an attempt to mimic the effects of smoking marijuana.
Initially, when K2 emerged on the market in the early 2000s, it was believed that this product had achieved a cannabis-like high with a legal blend of herbs. Not long after, the synthetic cannabinoids were discovered to be the culprits instead. Some of the natural ingredients claimed to be in this product include Egyptian water lily, dwarf skullcap, Indian lotus, Lion’s tail, and honeyweed, all of which are traditional medicinal herbs. Analysis, however, found no traces of the ingredients. It is believed by those who have studied samples of K2 that the product is simply some type of dried plant material, its identity insignificant, sprayed with liquid forms of synthetic cannabinoids.
Is K2 or Synthetic Marijuana Safe?
When K2 first hit the market, it was sold in gas stations and convenience stores and often had cartoon characters on the packets. It was marketed as a safe alternative to smoking marijuana. One of the major problems with this product, however, is that there have not yet been any studies to conclude whether it is safe or not. Anecdotal evidence would seem to suggest the latter.
Smoking K2 does seem to give the user a high similar to that achieved with smoking cannabis. The positive side effects are similar including a relaxed feeling. There are also negative side effects, though.
Users may experience the following unpleasant symptoms from smoking K2:
- Hot flashes
- Emotional instability
In addition to the side effects, many people claim that K2 is addictive. Users often find themselves desperate to get more, spending money they don’t have to get the next high. Because the true health effects of this drug are unknown, becoming addicted is extremely risky. There is also the possibility that using K2 will lead to the use of more dangerous drugs as the user attempts to get a better high.
Unfortunately, the long term effects of using this product are totally unknown. Because K2 only came out in the early 2000s, there has not been enough time to conduct a long term study. Another problem is that the ingredients of K2 keep changing. As synthetic cannabinoid compounds are banned and made illegal, manufacturers of this drug keep changing the components. Any one sample of K2 could be different from the next.
Is K2 or Synthetic Marijuana Legal?
Initially, K2 was perfectly legal. It wasn’t until analysis concluded that it contained synthetic cannabinoids rather than natural medicinal herbs, and when trips to emergency rooms and calls to poison control picked up, that law enforcement took note. On March 1, 2011, the DEA used emergency powers to put a temporary, one-year ban on several of the synthetic compounds found in K2. Makers of K2 responded by creating newer compounds that circumvented the ban.
As synthetic cannabinoids are discovered and banned, K2 manufacturers simply make new compounds, which has made creating an illegal status difficult. As a result, individual states are beginning to create bans on K2 as a whole. New York, Indiana, and Florida have all recently made the switch to banning the whole product rather than individual compounds in an attempt to get this product out of the hands of users.
Synthetic Marijuana Addiction
Part of the danger of K2 usage is the unknown. Because so little research has been conducted regarding the safety and habit-forming nature of this drug, its use is very risky. If you know someone who is using K2 at all, you should intervene and educate them about the problems with smoking this drug. If you susulty breathing, and convulsions and seek emergency medical help if you feel someone is in danger.
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