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K2 Affects Students

New synthetic drugs hit close to home

By Alex Carver
On November 30, 2011

Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse's website. Marijuana, commonly referred to as pot, contains the main active chemical ingredient of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short.

Recently, however, there has been much hype arise about the new substance known as K2, or "spice." K2 is a popular drug sold in the area used as an alternative to cannabis.

Lt. Mike Orr of public safety said that new synthetics emerge by adding new substances that lawmakers just haven't found out about yet.

"What [some] companies are doing is changing these chemicals in the substances every so often so that when lawmakers make a substance illegal, they come out with a new product that the lawmakers have to find out about," he said.

K2 has now been outlawed in Tennessee, said Orr.

Dan Bickley, owner of Cloud 9 Tobacco Emporium in Johnson City, said that on July 1, the General Assembly of Tennessee made 18 chemicals illegal that are commonly found in synthetic drugs, bath salts and incense.

Bickley said that the incense sold in his stores are all sent to labs to be tested to make sure they meet Tennessee laws.

"I don't sell any banned ingredient because it does me no good if my customers are locked up and can't purchase product from me," said Bickley.

"What we sell in our store is called herbal incense. You light it and it gives off a scent. You don't smoke it, eat it or do anything outside of what its purpose is."

Bickley also said that many individuals come into his stores asking for products with banned substances in them. "Demon is a very popular one that is asked for but it has been banned as well, so we do not carry it."

Bath salts are another type of synthetic drug finding its way onto store shelves. Bath salts are normally used for bathing and cosmetic purposes, however individuals are using it to get high and in return have suffered the consequences. "The General Assembly recently made six chemicals commonly found in bath salts illegal," said Bickley.

The ETSU Counseling Center has seen effects of this synthetic drug hit close to home. A flier distributed by the center explains that Tennessee and several other states have passed laws making it illegal to "sell all forms of herbal incense containing synthetic cannabinoids." On March 1, it became effective nationwide.

"K2 itself is illegal in Tennessee, but when the companies change a certain chemical in the drug we can't do much until a law gets passed," said Orr.

According to an article on, "spice" is anything but nice. Spice is being marketed as "natural," so many of its users think it's safe to use.

However, the ingredients used to make this synthetic drug are not being monitored or regulated, so the results can have dangerous effects on your body and brain. Some mixtures, according to this article, even contain harmful metal residues.

"[K2] is actually very bad," said Mina McVeigh, the alcohol and other drug outreach coordinator in the Counseling Center. "[Certain kinds are] ‘legal' and deemed to be safe, but it isn't. We saw one student last year, and we have seen many students this year in extreme distress because of their usage."

McVeigh also discussed side effects and problems experienced by some students who had been dealing with these synthetic drugs.

"It is causing bad paranoid delusions, anxiety, panic attacks, loss of touch with reality, burning sensations in the throat, and many users reporting that they don't feel like themselves anymore," she said. "One case we saw was a student who has severe pulmonary symptoms, and this individual reported coughing up substances for several months."

One ETSU student, who asked not to be named, shared his bad experiences K2. "I took the first hit and noticed a crazy burning sensation in my throat. I had headaches often after that night and I couldn't smoke cigarettes for a few months."

When asked if he would try it again, he said, "No way; I don't think they should be able to sell it either."

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