A package of K2 and a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals are seen in this Feb. 15, 2010 photo.(Photo: Kelley McCall, AP)
PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Enter most any
smoke shop or head shop in Maine and you are likely to find it. And it
is carried by many gas stations, too. It, is a designer drug made to
mimic the effects of marijuana, sold as potpourri in colorful packaging
that is stamped with a warning that it is not for human consumption, but
users and kids all know that if you smoke it, it will get you high,
sometimes with very serious side effects.
"Everyone knows what it is being used for," admits Maine's top drug
cop, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Director, Roy McKinney. "We are
hearing more and more about it, and really it is being marketed and
pushed as a legal high."
In July of 2012, the US Government passed a law outlawing synthetic
cannabinoids, better known on the street as Spice, K2, fake weed or
potpourri, but before the ink was dry on the legislation, manufacturers
altered the chemical composition ever so slightly to keep the product on
Currently, there is little McKinney or other law enforcement officers
can do to keep these drugs out of stores and off the streets because
they are legal.
"This is a real challenge," explained McKinney. "It is a real
challenge for public safety, law enforcement. It is a real challenge
for treatment folks and prevention folks because we have - these
so-called research chemicals and that is what they are - that are being
marketed by those that are out for the almighty dollar."
Police aren't the only ones struggling to deal with users.
"We are seeing an influx of these consumer products that are spiked
with these designer drugs," said Dr. Tamas Peredy, the medical director
of the Northern New England Poison Center and an emergency room
physician at Maine Medical Center.
"The problem is, in the emergency department, when they come in, they
are out of control," said Dr. Peredy. "All that I am seeing is a guy
coming in, being held down by police officers or EMS workers, and I have
got to get the situation under control."
Peredy says it is difficult for doctors to tell the difference
between users of synthetic cannabinoids and bath salts, another
synthetic compound that has caused widespread problems in Maine.
"They are so agitated that they require a lot of resources,
particularly up front," said Dr. Peredy. "They require many security
guards, they require the critical care area, they require nursing
support because you have to give them sedating drugs and they may stay
that way for days."
Users may experience hallucinations, extreme anxiety and paranoia
from the drug, and open themselves up to a host of medical complications
including rapid heart rates, vomiting, seizures and in rare cases
death. Last week the national Centers for Disease Control issued a
report that found some users experienced kidney damage.
Doctor Peredy says the long-term effects of use are unknown, as are
the chemical compounds used in many of these drugs. "It is likely that
the long-term abuse of stimulants eventually causes certain types of
brain damage," said Dr. Peredy.
"They vomited, they had a seizure, I've had some clients tell me they
actually became disorientated where they might have been a block from
their house and they couldn't identify how to get home," explained
Jennifer Zorn, a substance abuse counselor with Day One who works with
teens and young adults.
"It is just very scary, very scary," she said. "Anything that they
are putting in their bodies, the brain is developing around that. So if
we are using substances that are often illegal, or not, it is going to
affect their development. And by the time that they are 25, they are
not going to be able to function at the same level as those of us that
may not have been using when they were younger."
"We don't know what's in it, we don't know how it is affecting our
body, we don't know the long-term effects, and again it is hard to tell
young people this," she added. "It seems like it's fun."
"We are definitely seeing a large spike in its use," said Senior Lead
Officer, Dan Knight with the Portland Police Department. "We have a
lot of the younger kids, it is illegal for them to buy alcohol, buying
drugs is expensive and illegal, but they are using this spice right now
which is legal to use."
The packaging often contains bright colors and familiar cartoon
characters on them, making them even more attractive for kids to buy and
try, said Knight.
"It is easy to get, and here are some kids thinking like, 'well, I'm
18, I can't buy alcohol, buying drugs are illegal, but I can go here and
buy this, it gets me messed up and I'm not breaking the law'," said
He says officers are frustrated that stores in the city are selling
it to kids, even telling potential users about its effects and potency,
and there is nothing they can do about it.
McKinney hopes the state legislature will take a look at making it
illegal by crafting legislation similar to what helped get bath salts
off of store shelves.
"Every state is confronted with this challenge, as is the Congress," he said.
Tim Goff, WCSH