Photo: K2 is a popular brand of "fake pot."
"A 10-year-old child could walk into a head shop and buy it," said Shawn Rhoads, a police detective in West Plains, Mo. "It's not a tobacco, it's not regulated by anything. It would be like sending my 10-year-old son into Wal-Mart to buy potpourri."
The substance, often called "Spice," "Genie," or "Zohai" is sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC and mostly made in China. It's smoked in joints or pipes, just like the real deal.
The key ingredients are believed to be the unintended result of scientific research.
Dr. John Huffman, a Clemson University organic chemistry professor, was researching the effects of cannabinoids on the brain when his work resulted in a 1995 paper that contained the method and ingredients used to make the compound. That recipe found its way to marijuana users, who replicated Huffman's work and began spraying it onto dried flowers, herbs and tobacco.
"People who use it are idiots," said Huffman, referring to K2 smokers.
It's banned in much of Europe, but not yet regulated in the States. That's likely to change. A Missouri bill seeks to make possession punishable by up to seven years in prison. A Kansas bill would make possession a misdemeanor, with up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Both laws are identical to marijuana penalties in those states.
No real science yet on whether the substance is bad for you, although the DEA says in mice it can lead to a lower body temperature, partial paralysis and the temporary inability to feel pain, according to the DEA.
But does it lead to munchies? For now we don't know.