By Joseph Hamrick and Caleb Slinkard
A new drug has put down strong roots in Hunt County, promising a more intense and, at one time, legal high. But the side effects of the synthetic marijuana widely-known as K2 can be dangerous, even fatal.
Many residents still believe that the synthetic marijuana is legal because it can be purchased from local stores, despite the fact that it was declared illegal in late 2011.
K2 is often marketed as incense or potpourri, and, while no scientific studies have been completed on the drug’s long-term effects, it can have devastating consequences, such as seizures, hallucinations and elevated heart rates.
“They call it an experience with the devil,” Stacey, a resident in south Hunt County who spoke on a condition of anonymity, said. “People on it just want to fight. The high is so intense that kids are saying they don’t go back to marijuana, because that high isn’t good enough.”
The exact chemical makeup of K2 changes to skirt challenges to its legality, preliminary research has shown, making it difficult for law enforcement to crack down on sales of the drug.
“More information about the health effects of K2 are still to come, as it appears that it can store itself into the human body; only time will tell what that the result may be,” Rick McDonald, chief deputy of the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office, said. “K2 is a dangerous threat to our children.”
K2 is highly addictive, but its use results in much shorter “highs” than similar drugs. Stacey’s sister began using K2 as a legal alternative to marijuana to combat her nerve disorder.
“I called her house one day and she had gotten so hooked on K2 that she had forgotten how many of her prescription pills she had taken and thought she had overdosed,” Stacey said. “She had blisters on her thumb because of how much she smoked. She lit up around 40 times a day.”
One of Stacey’s children has also become addicted to the drug.
“One of my children will do whatever they have to do to get the high,” she said. “It’s like it’s the only thing that’s important to them. It has destroyed our entire family; it’s beyond belief.”
Fighting the production and distribution of the product is difficult, county law enforcement officials say, because it is virtually undetectable in drug tests and many stores in Hunt County have continued to sell it.
In Sept. 2012, three people were arrested by local law enforcement after a search warrant was issued for Budz Smoke Shop, located on Highway 34 in the Cash community. K2 and another synthetic drug, bath salts, were seized in the raid. Headshops in Commerce openly marketed the product before it was declared illegal.
“Here in Hunt County, K2 has been found in smoke shops and small convenience stores,” he said. “Many of the stores, once notified of this illegal product, pulled it from the shelves. But others have chosen to continue to sell it in back rooms and have disguised it as a different product with no care to the safety of the citizens’. We know it’s available.”
According to a recent survey, 12 percent of high school students have experimented with the drug.
“There are just so many kids who are on it,” Stacey said. “I don’t care how much money these people have at these headshops. They need to be shut down. I’m so angry it’s still sold.”
McDonald warned that the synthetic herbal incense trade is a billion dollar industry and shows no sign of slowing down.
“This trend is growing at a rapid rate and we need to remain on constant watch,” he said. “This trade was listed as a $7.6 billion industry and it continues to grow today.”
K2 is also known by other names, such as Spice, Black Mamba, Bombay Blue, Cloud Nine, fake weed, Genie and Zohai.
It is often marketed as a synthetic form of marijuana that can be smoked through a pipe or rolled paper that can look much like a cigarette, according to McDonald.
K2 was added to the Penalty Group 2 of the Texas Controlled Substances Act in Sept. 2011.
According to the act, possession of K2 can carry a fine from $10,000 to $50,000 and jail time ranging from six months to two years for less than one gram, and anywhere between five and 99 years for possession of 400 grams or more.