K2, herbal incense and alternative to marijuana, recently became illegal

Gov. Brad Henry signed House Bill 3241 on April 29, making a potent marijuana substitute known as K2 illegal in Oklahoma. Sold under various proprietary names, K2 is an herbal mixture sprayed with psychoactive chemicals to produce similar affects to marijuana, although the product was sold in local head shops as incense.

Oklahoma Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, the bill's primary author, said he put the legislation together after conversations with friends in the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

"My background is forensic chemistry," Derby said. "I worked as a forensic chemist for the Missouri Highway Patrol and for the Tulsa Police Department. I have good friends in law enforcement in Oklahoma, and several of them mentioned to me that we were having trouble with K2."

Derby said the substance was unknown to him prior to talking to state law enforcement officials. He was told that urban areas around the state were particularly problematic.

"I did some of my own research," Derby said, "and based on what I discovered, I recommended that the substance be moved onto the 'schedule I' list."

What Derby discovered was that a substance being marketed as a natural blend of herbs and flowers to be used as incense in Oklahoma was, in the words of Anthony Scalzo, professor of toxicology at Saint Louis University, "neither natural nor safe."

In an interview with Science Daily, Scalzo said that users' symptoms include rapid heartbeat, dangerously elevated blood pressure and vomiting, and that those "suggest that K2 is affecting the cardiovascular system of users. It also is believed to affect the central nervous system, causing severe, potentially life-threatening hallucinations and, in some cases, seizures."

Placing K2 on the list of controlled substances means that it has now been removed from Oklahoma stores, but other marijuana substitutes remain, including the increasingly popular Black Magic. Available in Oklahoma City head shops and at online stores, Black Magic is marketed as an herbal smoke blend. One online store featured the following description: "This blend is 100 percent natural and contains high-grade essential oils and resin extracts imported from India. ... Ultra potent very flavorful smoke, compiled of ultra thick concentrated choice exotic herbal oils and resins."

In addition to Black Magic, Oklahoma City head shops are also selling other marijuana alternatives, and just like K2, many are labeled as incense or herbal smoke blends, some of which produce a euphoric effect.

A YouTube site called Legal Alternative High Review posted a video reviewing marijuana alternatives, purportedly in Oklahoma City. Included in the reviews were proprietary blends like Black Magic, Gonjah, Paradise Red and Starry Night. The reviewer reported that three of the four gave him similar results to marijuana, while one did not work at all.

Mark Woodward, public information officer for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, said his office had not received very many reports on other marijuana alternatives at this point, but that the bureau would act upon reports when received.

"Many of these products are legal because they are labeled for use as a legitimate product," Woodward said. "The analogy I like to use is spray paint. It has a legitimate function, so we can't place it on a list of controlled substances, but using it as an intoxicant is illegal. There are thousands of products on store shelves that can be used illegally."

Derby said he was unaware of any of the other alternatives, but he intended to research them at the end of the current session.

"I was not made aware of these at the same time as I was K2," he said, "and unfortunately, we're at the end of the session. I plan on contacting Mark Woodward to discuss cannabinoids for the next legislative session."

photo above K2 contains JWH-018 (pictured), a synthetic chemical.
photo below Rep. David Derby.

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