Courts & Crime

Students find K2 'incense' a legal substitute for pot

RALEIGH, N.C. —As college students return to classes, some are cracking open lip balm-size jars and plastic bags of a legal herb product that mimics the effects of marijuana.

K2, or Spice, is a lab-made leafy green drug that looks and smells like oregano, with hints of blueberry, citrus and other flavors. The designer drug is showing up at tobacco and head shops, misleadingly labeled as "incense." The labels also inform buyers that the contents are not fit for human consumption, but behind closed doors the "incense" is being puffed as a legal alternative to marijuana.

K2 and similar products have been outlawed in six states this year, including Tennessee, and six other states are considering banning the products. The U.S. Marine Corps has asked shops near its North Carolina bases not to sell the product to their troops, and the man who created the drug in a research lab warns of such side effects as increased heart rate and blood pressure and unpredictable effects on mood.Quantcast

The synthetic drug was created in the early 1990s, but started showing up in tobacco and convenience stores in the United States late last year.

Bert Wood, chief executive officer of the N.C. Partnership for a Drug Free North Carolina, had to Google "K2" when he was asked about his organization's stand on the product.

"I have never heard of it," Wood said. "But here's the big picture: Since cave people hit two sticks together to get sparks, we have looked at ways to feel different. If K2 mimics the effects of getting stoned, then we are not encouraging young people to use it."

At least one state lawmaker says he intends to introduce legislation early next year to ban the product.

Sen. William Purcell of Laurinburg sponsored a bill in 2009 that outlawed salvia, another herbal product, with hallucinogenic effects comparable to those of LSD and psilocybin.

Purcell said he heard about K2 a couple of months ago. He says if he's re-elected this fall, he will investigate K2.

"I'll probably take a look at it and get more information," he said from his Scotland County home. "Then we will see if something needs to be done about it."

'Selling like crazy'

In the meantime, the drug is flying off the shelves at stores that carry it.