By Curtis Rath
Across our nation, elected officials and the media are lamenting the latest scourge plaguing our nation, K2. Introduced in 2000, K2 is a blend of herbs, sprayed with synthetic marijuana and sold as incense printed with the warning “Not for Human Consumption.”
Although there have been no official studies of the product, Professor John W. Huffman, who first synthesized these chemicals says, “People who use it are idiots” and “It’s like playing Russian roulette. You don’t know what it’s going to do to you.”
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley gave an impassioned speech before Congress in August, claiming that we must “halt the spread of the problem before it consumes families and communities” and K2 use has “spread quickly throughout Europe and the U.S.”
In a recent Dallas Morning News’ editorial, two elected officials claim that their efforts to ban K2 will give “school districts the legal means to discipline students who are in possession of the drug” and it “gives policy makers and experts the chance to educate citizens about the dangers of these drugs.”
It is difficult for me to understand how this action does anything, effective, beyond publicizing the substance, consequently increasing its popularity and potential danger. The K2-related calls to U.S. poison centers skyrocketed from 13 in 2009 to over 2,500 in 2010. As a result, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) made an emergency declaration that “possessing and selling these chemicals or the products that contain them illegal in the U.S. for at least one year while the DEA and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) further study whether these chemicals and products should be permanently controlled.”
In the DMN editorial, the two Texas officials strongly imply that the death of 30-year-old Ryan Justice was a direct result of smoking K2 stating, he “had been drinking alcohol and smoking a synthetic drug known as K2” and “his wife had taken his K2 away, and a fight ensued”. Mr. Justice was shot and killed, when he pointed an unloaded rifle at arriving officers.
The truth is that Mr. Justice showed up at the home of his ex-wife after proclaiming his desire to “die at the hands of the police,” just like his best friend, Joe Vinson Thornton. Thornton was killed by police in 2006, fulfilling his childhood wish to “go out in a blaze of glory.”
In addition to the synthetic marijuana, Mr. Justice’s blood showed traces of prescription anti-depressants and a Blood Alcohol Level of .28, which is nearly four times the legal limit and near the fatal level of .35. It seems unlikely that K2 played a significant role in this tragedy.
Mr. Justice is not the only person whose death was falsely, attributed to K2. Last August, WFAA’s Janet St. James reported that a “Dallas teen’s death could be linked to K2 use” and quoted officials, that the teen had a “history of K2 use.”
Sen. Grassley said “This last August, a recent 19-year-old Lake Highlands High School graduate in Dallas, Texas, passed away after smoking K2. The medical examiner confirmed that this boy had K2 in his system at the time of his death.” This is false. The official autopsy report attributes his death to “natural causes” and he had no synthetic marijuana in his bloodstream.
The DMN editorial notes the potential K2 side effects of “hallucinations, vomiting, panic attacks, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, pallor, numbness and tingling, disorientation, loss of time awareness and, in some cases, tremors and seizures.”
K2 is not unique in having side effects. ”Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); black or bloody stools; confusion; diarrhea; dizziness; drowsiness; hearing loss; ringing in the ears; severe or persistent stomach pain; unusual bruising; vomiting” are the side effects from the drug, known on the street, as aspirin.
K2 is not the only “not for human consumption” product that is being abused. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC) estimates that one out of five children will get high off of some kind of inhalant, before the 8th grade.
There are literally thousands of potential products that can be abused, such as typewriter correction fluid, air-conditioning refrigerant, felt tip markers, spray paint, air freshener, butane and even cooking spray.
If the NIPC estimates are correct, these common households products are a much greater problem than K2.
Will these new laws be effective cutting the consumption of illegal substances among our young people?
Doubtful, if you look at the studies. According to a 2010 National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study, the use is increasing and “21.4 percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the past 30 days, while 19.2 percent smoked cigarettes.” The same study show that the number of high school seniors who had used alcohol in the last year dropped from 43.5% to 41.2%.
When compared to the prevalence of marijuana and alcohol, all of this bluster about K2 seems akin to trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun.
These local laws, bans, task forces and regulations will do nothing to protect us, or our children.
The DEA has done the only thing that has a chance of being effective and any effort at the state or local level is a complete waste of time.
If making new laws is not the answer, what is? My suggestion is education. Our parents and schools do not need more government intrusion to teach our kids about the dangers of drugs (both legal and illegal).
I have the faith that most kids will make good decisions, when they have all the facts. It is the adults, who are having trouble keeping their facts straight.
You can reach Curtis at Rathpack@gmail.com