Updated: Thursday, 27 May 2010, 7:05 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 27 May 2010, 4:50 PM EDT
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The newest trend for people who want to get high without using marijuana is called K-2, or "spice." But just because it's legal doesn't mean it's safe, doctors said Thursday.
K-2 is marketed as fragrant potpourri or incense, and it's completely legal in Michigan.
"We sell it, we market it as an incense," Shakedown Street co-owner Joe Krzeminski said. "We understand that people are using it for other things."
There is a warning label on the packaging of K-2, warning people not to smoke it -- but that's exactly what they're doing.
The ingredients are not listed on the packaging, and employees at the Grand Rapids smoke shop said they don't know exactly what's in the K-2.
But doctors told 24 Hour News 8 on Thursday it's basically made of dried herbs or flowers, laced with a synthetic form of THC -- the active ingredient in marijuana.
"Why anyone would want to smoke potpourri is beyond me," Krzeminski said. "People are using this at a pretty high level because it's not illegal at this point."
The incense sells for between $30 and $90 per packet, which is up to 100 times more expensive than some other incense in the store.
Extensive research has not been conducted on the drug, doctors said, adding that the synthetic THC used wasn't even created until 1995.
But smoking K-2 even a few times can cause serious, long-term side effects, they said.
"What most people hope it does, is it makes you relaxed and comfortable, like marijuana," said Dr. R. Corey Waller of the Spectrum Health Emergency Department. "The problem is, it does pretty much the opposite. Your brain is basically having a horribly bad trip."
K-2 can be more dangerous than some illegal drugs, Waller said.
"It can make you a little bit high, but can also give you significant medical problems consistently," he said. Some of the problems associated with K-2 are depression, anxiety and hallucinations.
Although Waller said he has only seen one case in the ER where someone came in under the influence of K-2, he said it's still a growing problem.
"It's a difficult thing to diagnose as a physician, because the vast majority of the time, it's taken along with other drugs, and so it's difficult when you have multiple different things in the system because they start to overlap in what they do."
Shakedown Street sells it to people of all ages, employees said. But if evidence is released revealing K-2 and similar products are unhealthy, the store plans to stop selling it.
"As soon as I hear anything negative -- if there's any concrete evidence that this is harming anyone or there's a bad trip, like with the salvia, I'll pull it off the shelves immediately and we'll trash the shop," Krzeminski said.
24 Hour News 8 spoke with officials at Spectrum Health, St. Mary's and Metro Hospitals and they say they haven't seen a huge surge in cases. The U.S. Justice Department issued a drug alert about K-2 earlier this month.