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Pot-like products get state's attention

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A new — and legal — designer drug emulates the effects of marijuana, but can cause anxiety, accelerated heart rate and seizures.

By Landmark News Service

It goes by many names: K2, Cloud 9, Spice, Magic Gold, Buzz, Smoke, Skunk.
The melange of herbs sprayed with a synthetic marijuana substitute is blooming in popularity, and making users sick and being outlawed as it does.
The stuff, still legal in Virginia, is the latest in the cycle of designer drugs to hit the market, only to be banned as the law catches up to them.
"Anytime these people put these unregulated and uncontrolled drugs into their bodies, they're truly playing Russian roulette with their bodies," said Tim Carden, resident agent in charge at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Roanoke.
Poison control centers in 46 states and Washington, D.C., have tallied 761 cases involving the "herbal incense," according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Most have come from Georgia, Indiana, Missouri and Texas, with a "handful" from Virginia, said the organization's spokeswoman, Jessica Wehrman.
Calls in Western Virginia have been mainly for information, not emergencies, and have come from rural areas as much as cities, said Chris Holstege, medical director of Blue Ridge Poison Center at the University of Virginia Health System.
Rutherford Rose, director of the Virginia Poison Center in Richmond, said his office has seen about a dozen calls related to the products in eastern Virginia, all cases treated in emergency rooms between Richmond and the Tidewater area.
The DEA treats the products as a "drug of concern," Carden said. Agents are actively gathering information to see if they need to be added to the government's schedule of controlled substances.
It's essentially vegetable material labeled as "herbal" that's sprayed with a laboratory copy of marijuana's active ingredient. Unlike marijuana's THC, the fake drug causes greater agitation and anxiety, an accelerated heart rate and sometimes seizures, Carden said.
Terms like "herbal" and "incense" on the label make it seem more benign, Carden said, but it can be hazardous to the user's health.
K2 and other brands are widely available on the Internet. One site, K2incenseblend.com, contained conditions of use that ask buyers to agree to take responsibility for any personal injury and other damages.
"I also state that I am not a law enforcement officer or a government employee. I further state that I am not associated with nor affiliated with any government agency nor am I ordering product under the instruction of any government agent or agency," the conditions say.
The web site says the company won't ship to states where the products have been banned.
Kansas was the first. Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia have followed.
In all, 10 states have banned the products.
The Iowa Board of Pharmacy approved a ban this week, following the June suicide of an 18-year-old boy who smoked K2, suffered a severe panic attack, told friends he was "going to hell," then went home and shot himself, according to the Des Moines Register.
What's going on with K2 and similar products, Carden said, is part of a long-running cycle of homegrown or laboratory-created drugs coming to prominence as a legal alternative. They're eventually outlawed. Then another substance comes along and the cycle begins again.
Methamphetamine, the stimulant produced in basement labs now, began the same way in the early 1980s, Carden said.
More recently, it was the hallucinogenic herb salvia divinorum, which the Virginia General Assembly outlawed in 2008.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's office is having "initial conversations with interested parties about this very issue and looking into what should be done, including possible legislation," said spokesman Brian Gottstein. "We still have more research to do and more people to include in the discussion before we can talk about what we think should be done."