Lawrence is a focal point for the current debate in the Kansas Legislature about banning the active ingredient in an herbal substance known as K2. Follow the debate and the progress of the Kansas bills here.
It’s not marijuana, but some local law enforcement officials say it’s very similar.
It’s a legal, smokable herbal mixture called K2, and is available in Lawrence.
“This is basically a synthetic marijuana,” said Deputy Tom Erickson of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s still the same type of thing.”
Erickson said the Johnson County crime lab tested K2 – which looks like potpourri and retails for about $10 per gram – and found that it had chemical properties that are similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
K2 can be purchased at a downtown shop, Sacred Journey, 1103 Mass. Employees at the store declined an interview request.
The substance’s similarity to marijuana is catching the eye of school officials and substance abuse treatment providers.
The Olathe school district has dealt with a couple of cases of students possessing K2 in the schools, said Carol LeVar, executive director for general administration for the district.
“We’re on the lookout,” she said.
The Olathe student code provides for disciplinary action on substances such as K2, even though it’s legal. LeVar said that the district has concerns about K2, similar to those they have with illegal substances such as marijuana.
“We’d deal with it pretty seriously,” LeVar said.
Officials from Lawrence schools said they aren’t aware of K2 showing up in schools, but that doesn’t mean local youth aren’t using the substance, said Kendall Heiman, director of Professional Treatment Services, a Lawrence-based substance abuse treatment center.
“It seems to have quite a presence in Douglas and Johnson counties,” she said.
Heiman said counselors at her agency have seen a “dramatic increase” in youths using the substance in the last month.
The substance doesn’t show up on a drug test, which makes it an attractive alternative to marijuana, she said.
Because K2 is legal in the United States, Lawrence police Sgt. Bill Cory said, that leaves it out of the bounds of law enforcement.
“We know it is out there but have not seen it. Since it is a legal substance there is not much we can do about it,” Cory said.
But that doesn’t mean K2 is safe, said Heiman, who cites a variety of issues raised by the substance.
For one, it’s relatively unstudied.
“There’s no one who really knows a whole lot about it,” she said.
Heiman also has concerns that the high cost of the substance – which comes in a variety of flavors and potencies – will lead to more crime for those wanting to purchase it.
And she sees the same potential issues with K2 as she sees with marijuana: negative health effects, impaired driving, poor decision-making and drug dependency.
Erickson said that the potential problems with K2 have Johnson County officials planning a proposal for a change at the state legislative level that would make K2 illegal.
“We’re just putting together a proposal,” said Erickson.
But that will take time, and Erickson said it’s important for parents to be aware of K2.
“If your kids have this and are using it, they’re getting high,” he said.