It's legal. It's cheap. And it can give people who smoke it a high like that from marijuana.
Monday, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice will call on state lawmakers to sponsor legislation making the synthetic herb known as "K2" or "Spice," illegal to possess, use or sell.
K2 poses a serious threat to local teens, said Rice, who one week ago announced that she is running for state attorney general. It is sold on the Internet and at local shops as incense, but can give people who smoke it a high like marijuana "without the calming effects," one expert said.
"Anyone who buys and inhales these unregulated substances is putting themselves at serious risk," Rice said.
Synthetic cannabinoids are very closely related to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical in marijuana, which causes users to get high. Because the K2 compounds, called JWH-018 and JWH-073, are slightly different from THC, they are not covered by existing drug laws. The DA wants a bill to criminalize the synthesized cannabinoids added to the K2 herbal mixture.
Rice's proposal, expected to be announced Monday, would amend the state Controlled Substances Act by adding the synthetic cannabinoids in K2 to the state's list of Schedule I controlled substances. She aims to make it a felony to sell K2 and a Class A misdemeanor to possess it, Rice spokeswoman Carol Trottere said.
Rice cannot introduce legislation, but a group of Long Island lawmakers already has proposed criminalizing K2. Their bill, sponsored by state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), would impose a $500 fine on any business caught selling the herb. It has no penalties for people who use or possess it, however.
Flanagan could not be reached for comment over the weekend. Rice said Flanagan's bill does not go far enough.
An Internet search shows the herb sells for about $38 for three grams, about a tenth of an ounce, and is marketed under different blends, such as Summit, Citron, Blonde, Pink and Pineapple Express. Some websites specify that the products have not been approved by the USDA for human consumption.
Dr. Constantine Ioannou, vice chairman of Nassau University Medical Center's clinical services for psychiatry, said he knows of no patients admitted to NUMC because of K2 use. But he said cases are likely to spring up as the drug catches on.
Ioannou said effects from the chemicals sprayed on the herb can include anxiety, panic, paranoia, rapid heart rate and shortness of breath.
He said there is mounting evidence that cannabis can be dangerous. While smoking anything is damaging to the lungs, Ioannou said cannabis is addictive and is believed to negatively affect a young person's brain as it matures.
It also is considered a "gateway" to more serious drugs, he said, and may speed up the onset of mental illness among people who are prone to it.
Questions & answers about K2
Q: What is K2?
A: A synthetic herb sold as incense that gives users a high similar to marijuana when smoked.
Q: How popular is it?
A: Experts say K2 is not yet being widely used on Long Island, but that it is very popular in the Midwest and could become increasingly popular here.
Q: How widely is it available?
A: It can be easily purchased in "head," smoke and novelty shops, and over the Internet. Internet sites advertise the herbs for about $38 for three grams.
Q: What are its effects if smoked?
A: Experts say the herbs will give people who smoke it a high similar to marijuana, but without the calming effect. Its symptoms can include anxiety, panic, paranoia, rapid heart rate and shortness of breath, experts said.
Q: Is it dangerous?
A: Experts say smoking K2 is damaging to the lungs, is addictive, and can negatively affect a young person's brain as it matures.
Q: What kind of legislation is Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice calling for?
A: Rice wants to make it a felony to sell the herb and a misdemeanor to possess or buy it.
- ANN GIVENS