K2 ban bill moves to Senate

The drug is viewed as a marijuana alternative.
K2, shown here at Bocomo Bay, is one of several brands of drugs that have a different structure but the same effects as THC, the main ingredient in marijuana. A bill, sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, passed out of committee Monday and would ban those drugs. Photo Illustration by Jon Roser

A bill to ban K2, a legal substance touted as an alternative to marijuana, cleared a Senate committee Monday.

Easily obtainable and undetectable in traditional drug tests, the substance, labeled as "herbal incense," is legally available in Missouri. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, sponsored the legislation.

"I think when people really understand what it is, it's not quite as controversial as people think it is to ban it," Schaefer said. "You know nobody is banning the inert organic substance, the dried flowers and leaves, the inert matter that the chemical is sprayed on. It's the chemical itself."

The herbs used in the manufacture of K2 do not contain the drug's active ingredients. These synthetic chemicals are produced separately and then applied to the plants.

The compounds used in these drugs vary in chemical structure from THC, the main reactive chemical in marijuana, but act upon the brain to produce similar effects, according to a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Freshmen Tyler Lee, David Uhr and Adam Stine discussed their discovery and use of K2 outside of a local tobacco shop.

"I smoked it for the first time yesterday," Lee said. "I would call it an intense cigarette that lasted like 30 minutes."

The "high" obtained from the drug seems to vary from user to user, but many refer to it as being similar to the effects of marijuana.

"It's like marijuana without the creativity," Uhr said. "I think it's less potent (than marijuana)."

K2 is readily available at many smoke shops, sold as herbal incense. Anyone 18 and older can bu K2, sold for between $20 and $50 for three grams.

"You can get it anywhere," Uhr said. "We're going to get some right now."

MU Police Department Capt. Brian Weimer said he hasn't had any run-ins with the drug in his course of duty.

"It's not something we're seeing," Weimer said.

Despite this, students are using the drug to their legal advantage.

"I learned about K2 as an alternative to pass drug tests," Stine said. "You can pass for probation like that."

K2, and other drugs like it, are not unique to the U.S.

Spice, a similar mixture of synthetic cannabinoids, has been outlawed or placed under controlled status in several EU member states, including Luxembourg, Poland and the United Kingdom.

The chemical composition of Spice, as well as that of K2, remains largely a mystery.

The synthetic cannabinoid compound identified in K2 is known as JWH-018, one of several similar chemicals Clemson University professor John Huffman discovered.

Schaefer's bill, which now moves to the full Senate, also seeks to outlaw drugs, such as the analgesic tapentadol and the naturally occurring hallucinogen 5-MeO-DMT, found in certain tree barks and in the venoms of some toads.

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