The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had to resort to its emergency powers this Wednesday to ban K2 and other “fake pot” products that mimic the effects of marijuana. As of now it is illegal to possess or sell the five chemicals used to make the products for at least one year. The agency and the Department of Health and Human Services will further debate whether the chemicals should be permanently added to the federal list of controlled substances considered unsafe, highly abused and without medical use.
K2 and these products are herbal blends coated with synthetic chemicals and sold as Spice, Red X Dawn and K2. They come as packets of incense or potpourri at convenience stores, herbal and spiritual shops and online. Sometimes they can cost up to $35 an ounce and have become popular as a legal alternative to marijuana among teenagers and college students. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve these chemicals for human consumption said the DEA in its federal notice.
This year in February the director of the Missouri Poison Center in St. Louis notified poison centers nationwide about K2. It said doctors reported a surge in patients taken ill by K2. These patients developed high heart rate, blood pressure and sometimes hallucinations, seizures, dependency or paranoia said the poison center.
According to Federal law the DEA can take emergency action to avoid “an imminent public health crisis” while a formal research and regulatory process is underway. More than a dozen states and several cities have banned or restricted the products.
According to the DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart, “The American public looks to the DEA to protect its children and communities from those who would exploit them for their own gain… Makers of these harmful products mislead their customers into thinking that ‘fake pot’ is a harmless alternative to illegal drugs, but that is not the case.” The DEA adds that the agency “has received an increasing number of reports from poison centers, hospitals and law enforcement regarding these products.” As of September 27th, the American Association of Poison Control Centers had reported receiving more than 1,500 calls from 48 states and the District of Columbia about products spiked with these drugs, the Drug Enforcement Administration said. It was the fastest action the agency could take to get these products off the legal market. DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said. DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said law enforcement will use chemical tests to determine which products violate the ban and will focus on distributors, not individual users.
The Drug Policy Alliance, which lobbies for legalizing marijuana, says banning K2 and other similar substances, will create an illegal market for the drug. Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance said, “When policymakers outlaw a drug, they give up all control over it…Instead of handing Spice and other drugs over to organized crime to make and distribute, it would be better to regulate the drugs to prohibit young people from getting access.”
The White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske said that with youth drug use rising, “it is critical that parents act today to talk to young people about the harms of drug use, including synthetic marijuana products like Spice and K2 that are marketed as ‘incense’.” Kerlikowske added, “Until the risks associated with ingesting these products and chemicals can be studied and understood, there is no place for them on the shelves of any legitimate business.”
Mark Tucci, owner and CEO of Custom Blends Tobacco of Hilton Head, S.C. said that suppliers have informed him that they would provide new products with different chemicals that comply with the new regulations. He said, “We’ve been getting calls from manufacturers. They knew about this thing coming down, and they said they are working on other blends.” Tucci’s company has four franchises and two company-owned stores, all in Pennsylvania, that sell K2.