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States Race to Ban Imitation Pot "K2"

This Feb. 15, 2010, photo shows a package of K2 which contains herbs and spices sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. State lawmakers in Missouri and Kansas have introduced bills which would create penalties for K2 possession similar to those for marijuana.(AP Photo/Kelley McCall)
AP Photo/Kelley McCall
States and cities nationwide are cracking down on a substance that mimics marijuana's effects on the brain - a legal dope that has stymied law enforcement authorities.

According to USA Today, 11 dozen states are banning or weighing bans on "K2" - a packet of chemicals that are sprayed or sprinkled as powder on herbs to turn them into synthetic marijuana.

Advocates of the ban are worried that the use of K2 can cause health problems and is rampant among young people, the newspaper reports.

K2 - also called "Spice," Genie" and "Zohai" - is commonly sold in head shops as incense. Produced in China and Korea, the mixture of herbs and spices is sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Users roll it up in joints or inhale it from pipes, just like the real thing.

Though banned in most of Europe, K2's key ingredients have not been regulated in the United States - a gap that has prompted lawmakers to take action.

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Poison Centers nationwide have reported 352 cases of people sickened by the substance in 35 states, according USA Today.

Toxicologists at three universities and two governmental agencies have launched a study into the effects of K2.

One of the researchers involved in the new study is Dr. Anthony Scalzo, a toxicologist at Saint Louis University. In March, he told The Associated Press that he has seen more than 30 cases of Missouri teenagers having hallucinations, severe agitation, elevated heart rates, vomiting, seizures and other reactions to the substance.

Scalzo, who also directs the Missouri Regional Poison Control Center at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis, said the symptoms suggest the drug affects users' cardiovascular and central nervous systems. He said the symptoms are not typical for those who use marijuana.

"It should not be doing this; it should be doing the opposite," Scalzo said. "They think they're going to mellow, and that's not what's happening."

Scalzo first noticed the pattern in mid-February during a routine review of poison control cases. He said poison control centers from other states, including Oklahoma, Kansas and Virginia, have contacted him with similar cases, but not at Missouri's rate.
"We have the most cases in Missouri of any other state I know of," Scalzo said. "It's a public health issue."

A law banning the drug in Kansas took effect in March. Kentucky followed suit in April. Bans in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee are pending and, USA Today reports that Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey and New York are also considering bills to outlaw the drug