It looks just like marijuana and it's being smoked by teens and young adults hoping to get the same kind of high. But, what users don't realize is just how dangerous this form of "fake weed" can be.
"Some of these compounds are two to 800 times as potent as the THC levels that you would find in Marijuana," says Assistant Special Agent in Charge James Burns, with the Albany District Office for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
So potent that reported side effects include a jump in blood pressure and heart rate, hallucinations and tremors strong enough to land you in the emergency room. US poison centers have received 112 calls since last year, 59 since March 1st alone. Even more frightening, the synthetic substance is legal....sold in head shops and on the internet as potpourri, under names like K2 or Spice.
"This is not a pharmaceutical type of drug," Burns says. "You have no idea how its manufactured or what's being put into it."
Vendors also call the store, pitching the product to owner Ray Chiras. But he says you won't find it anywhere on his shelves.
"I'm very conscientious on what we carry," Chiras says. "The side effects are not good. So you're better off staying away from it."
K2 is already on the US Drug Enforcement Administration's list of drugs or chemicals of concern. The agency continues to review its chemical compounds to decide if and how it should be regulated.
In the meantime, Burns urges parents to sit down with their children to let them know just because its legal, doesn't mean its safe. Also, burns says keep your eyes open.
"If you see something that looks like Oregano or a plant like substance that the kid says is incense and it doesn't appear they've been burning it, have a talk with them," burns says. "Because it's very dangerous and harmful to their health."
Another step has been taken to ban K2. New York State Senator John Flanagan introduced legislation back in March. The bill would prohibit its sale across the state. Once brought to the floor it must be passed by both the Senate and the Assembly.