Paul Smith, a 19–year-old student from Greenwich, Connecticut, came downstairs on Christmas morning to open presents with his family. Right away, his mother sensed that something was wrong with her son, and steered Paul into the kitchen.
“My mother tried to help my drink a class of water and it spilled out of my mouth, like I was paralyzed,” Paul recalls, “My family was terrified, but I thought I was fine. I thought they were overreacting… it must have been scarier for them to see me like that than it was for me.”
However, Paul had not taken any hard drugs, or even an illegal drug. Instead of Marijuana, Paul had started using a new synthetic form of cannabis known as Spice, or K2. A psychoactive herbal and chemical product, Spice is a designer drug created to affect the body in a similar way to cannabinoids – the natural chemical found in cannabis, such as THC.
Large and complex combinations of these cannabinoids are used in an attempt to avoid laws, which make cannabis illegal. Sold under various brand names, Spice can be found online, in head shops, and in the occasional gas station.
“It’s like playing Russian Roulette,” said John W. Huffman a Professor of organic chemistry and the first to synthesize many of the cannabinoids used in synthetic cannabis. “You really don’t know what it’s going to do to you.”
Huffman created the K2 compound in the mid-1990s while studying cannabinoid receptors. Unsure of how his research spread, Huffman recalls learning that in China and Korea people were selling the compound as a plant growth stimulant. Later Huffman’s book,Enantioselective Synthesis of Methoxy, Deoxy, and Tetrahydrocannabinols, was published and had a chapter on the JWH-018 compound he had created. The long-term goals of his research are two-fold and include the potential development of new pharmaceutical products. Huffman also used his research to explore the geometry of the cannabinoid brain and the peripheral receptors in the brain.
Using K2 as a Marijuana alternative first started in Europe, during the late 2000s. The first known distribution of the product was found in Germany, and was sold with the brand names Spice and K2.
However, many users find the drug to be a legal alternative that’s cheap and completely safe to inhale. “I don’t think K2 is such a big deal. Honestly, I would prefer the real stuff, but at least I know I’m not going to end up in jail by the end of the night,” Mayne Ecay, a student at New York University explained. “My main goal is to stay in school…it’s good to know that I won’t be kicked out if caught smoking K2.” Ecay continued to explain that he has never had any negative effects after smoking Spice and that most of his friends smoke it as well. Ecay and his friends also talked of how easy it is to acquire, often walking to Saint Marx Place and buying three grams for the price of one gram of weed.
Some States are beginning to crack down on this substance, however, on April 22 the Department of State Health and Substances outlawed all Marijuana-like substances, including Spice and K2, in the state of Texas. Though Kansas was the first state to ban the drug, in March 2010, Texas has some of the strictest rules in enforcing it. Placed in Schedule 1 of the Texas Schedules of Controlled Substances, K2 has been put in the most restrictive category, making it illegal to distribute, manufacture, possess or sell the synthetic compound. The penalties for any one of these crimes are a class A or B misdemeanor. In addition to Texas, 11 other states in the U.S. are in the process of banning the compound.