Payne went on to describe some of the different chemicals found in varying samples of the drug and stated that some, but not all, contain HU-210, which is illegal under federal law.
At Buried Treasures in Allston, about a dozen brands of K2 are on display behind the counter. On the backs of the packages are labels identifying the contents as incense, stating that the product is not intended for consumption. The ingredients, herbal or otherwise, are not listed. The three-gram packages sell for $25 to $40.
Buried Treasures is one of the few head shops in Allston that escaped the recent paraphernalia busts that have swept the neighborhood. Green Side Up Gallery owner Matt Yaffe, who was charged from that sweep, says his shop did not sell K2.
"Lou" (not his real name) is a regular K2 user who agreed to an interview with the Phoenix. "I'm on probation," he explains. "I have used marijuana to self-medicate since I was a teenager. I was diagnosed with ADHD and bi-polar disorder, and realized that I'd been using THC to even things out and take the edge off the manic moments."
Now 32 years old, he received 10 years of probation for a non-drug-related charge in 2006. "I get mandated urinalysis once a month," he continues. "Since it's untraceable under current drug testing regimes, it's basically the only undetectable alternative unless you want to take something like Wellbutrin. Spice is not identical to [cannabis], but it's 85 percent the same feeling."
"Spice doesn't make you paranoid," adds Lou. "It's kinda like weed-light. Like you don't feel like you're stuck to the couch."
Not everyone's so eager to discuss K2, however. Clemson professor and Harvard alumnus John W. Huffman developed JWH-018 more than a decade ago, in line with his research into, according to the Clemson Web site, the "synthesis of analogues and metabolites of . . . marijuana" for the development of potential pharmaceuticals. Reached by e-mail, Huffman declined to speak with the Phoenix about his discovery or his work. "We are packing for a trip to Europe and I do not have the time," he said.
What's in your pipe?
Christopher Rosenbaum, MD, MSCI, of UMass Memorial Medical Center, says "[JWH-018] was created for study in a test tube — not for humans."
The New York Times recently reported on one suicide in Iowa and one death, in Arkansas, attributed to K2.
Rosenbaum is studying patients who have sought emergency-room treatment after exposure to K2. "The [patients] are experiencing agitation anxiety, and vomiting," he tells the Phoenix. "Some have reported seizures. We're at the front end of this. The amount of knowledge is minimal. We do know it's making people anxious to the point of needing to be sedated."
"We don't know what's in it," he continues. "Some have found synthetic marijuana-like products that are not meant for human consumption. Their effect on the body is totally unknown, combined with nine or 10 herbs known to have psychotropic effects. You're really, really, really not able to say 'this is causing that.' They are contaminated and adulterated with synthetic chemicals."