What is K2? No, we’re not talking about the second highest mountain in the world, known for its extremely difficult climb. We’re also not talking about the sporting goods company, the state highway in Kansas, the NASA mission, or the vitamin. Although all of these things lay claim to the name K2, today we’re talking about the mind-altering drug K2. Also known as synthetic marijuana or spice, K2 is a dangerous drug impacting the lives of people around the world.
What is K2?
So what is K2? K2 is a synthetic drug comprised of active ingredients sprayed onto dried plant material and chopped herbs. Unlike natural marijuana, which contains the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), K2 uses synthetic cannabinoids to replicate the effects of THC. There are hundreds of known chemical forms of synthetic cannabinoids, and manufacturers frequently create new variations to dodge existing laws. Currently, about 50 variants of synthetic cannabinoids are regulated or outlawed in the United States (source).
Often colored beige, red, or brown, K2 resembles herbal tobacco, potpourri, or natural marijuana in appearance. A liquid form of the drug, which users “vape” with an e-cigarette, vape pen, or hookah pen, is gaining in popularity as well.
As we mentioned above, K2 goes by several names including all of the following:
- Synthetic marijuana
- Synthetic cannabis
- Fake pot
- Legal weed
- Herbal incense
So what is K2 exactly? And how about spice? K2 and Spice are the two most common brands of the drug, and their names have become generic terms for all forms of synthetic cannabis.
Since its introduction in the early 2000s, K2 has become popular worldwide, with many users purchasing the drug over the Internet. Some products include the label “not for human consumption” to mask their true purpose.
How does K2 differ from natural marijuana?
As we mentioned above, natural marijuana and synthetic marijuana differ greatly due to their chemical base. Natural marijuana contains THC, while K2 contains synthetic cannabinoids.
Although some K2 products only list “all natural” ingredients (like herbs) on their packages, since 2008, scientific analyses have shown that manufacturers spray these products with synthetic cannabinoids (source). Although chemically similar to THC, synthetic cannabinoids affect the brain receptors in a different (and often more dangerous) way. For example, some are much stronger than THC, because they bind to the cell receptors more forcefully (source). This can cause a variety of adverse side effects, including high blood pressure, vomiting, seizures, blurred vision, severe anxiety, paranoia, violent behavior, suicidal thoughts, heart attacks, and even death.
Many K2 manufacturers produce the drug overseas in cheap labs with low standards. Products differ dramatically from one another and from batch to batch. Very few synthetic cannabinoids on the market are tested on humans before being sold to consumers, making them extremely unpredictable. Users of K2 risk their health every time they use the drug. In addition, researchers believe K2 remains in the body for a significant period of time, and thus its long-term effects on the human body are unknown (source).
As most K2 products originate in Asia or Russia and contain frequently altered chemical compositions, they often avoid U.S. governmental bans, unlike marijuana. In addition, medical providers sometimes struggle to treat victims due to the unknown chemicals in the consumed product (source). They simply treat the symptoms and then wait for the drug’s influence to subside.
How common is K2?
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, “Use of synthetic cannabinoids is alarmingly high, especially among young people.” In fact, after marijuana, it is the most frequently used illegal drug among high school seniors (source). About 3.5% of 12th graders, 3.3% of 10th graders, and 2.7% of 8th graders used K2 in the past year (source). Many teenagers mistakenly believe that K2 is a safer, legal form of marijuana due to misleading marketing (source). To target young people, many manufacturers sell the product in bright and colorful packages with creative names like “Joker,” “Black Mamba,” “Genie,” and “Bliss” (source, source).
In November 2016, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a story about the influence of K2 on the city’s homeless population. Due to its low cost, prevalence, and ability to avoid many drug tests, K2 appeals to the homeless. The Missouri Poison Center reported 118 calls regarding K2 in November, which is more than double the number of calls (51 total) in all of 2015 (source).
Several states in the south and northeast have recently reported an increase in overdoses from K2 (source). Additionally, the Maryland Poison Center and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo both issued health warnings and alerts in 2015 due to high rates of K2-induced hospitalizations.
Can drug tests detect K2?
Standard 5-panel drug tests do not detect K2 in the human body (source), as synthetic cannabinoids differ from THC in structure. Although drug tests have the ability to test for the chemicals used in K2, these chemicals must be specifically requested as an addition to a standard drug-testing panel. Some drug tests have been developed to test for specific synthetic cannabinoid compounds in urine, but they are uncommon, expensive, and not in regular use. Other drug tests, targeting the most common synthetic cannabinoids, require a blood sample, making them more invasive and costly (source).
Only after months of testing and proof of wide consumption can the DEA add a synthetic cannabinoid to the list of banned substances. Manufacturers have created a cat-and-mouse game by constantly producing new chemicals, making the testing process arduous and confusing (source). By the time the government lists a synthetic cannabinoid as illegal, the manufacturer can abandon that product and change the chemical compound. This seriously threatens federal, state, and local authorities working to protect public health and safety.
The DEA is working to address the problem of limited K2 testing and the global manufacture of synthetic marijuana. For now, we simply urge you to spread awareness of this dangerous drug and to keep an eye out for future advancements regarding K2 in the areas of law, enforcement, and testing.
Finally, if you would like to test for synthetic drugs like K2 and bath salts, contact Tomo Drug Testing. Despite the ever-changing nature of K2, Tomo is keeping up with the modifications, helping you test for this notoriously difficult drug. Based in Springfield, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Missouri, Evansville and Indianapolis, Indiana, we offer customized solutions to make drug testing simple, and our nationwide network of clinics and providers allows Tomo Drug Testing to be available anytime, anywhere. For a free needs analysis, give us a call today at 1-888-379-7697 or contact us online. We would be happy to help!