K2 “Legal Pot” Gains Popularity

Parent Alert: A synthetic form of marijuana, most commonly known as K2, is being sold legally in so-called head shops throughout the Chicago area.

K2 is enjoying a surge in popularity and prompting lawmakers to consider a legal ban to the substance.

The substance is an otherwise innocuous blend of herbs that has been sprayed with JWH-018, a man-made chemical with a similar chemical structure to THC. It’s widely available on the Internet under a variety of other names—including Spice, Genie or simply “legal pot.” Typically sold in increments of 1-3 grams, its price ranges from $30-$125 depending on the manufacturer.

In March, the Illinois House approved legislation to classify K2 as a controlled substance, but until the Senate passes the bill and it’s signed into law, K2 is legal, unregulated and widely available.

Legal or not, many experts are concerned about the potentially harmful effects of ingesting a drug—synthetic or natural.

“Regardless of whether it’s marijuana or another substance, our lungs are not intended to ingest smoke,” says Richard Morelli, a certified alcohol and drug counselor and former director of the Lake County Addictions Treatment Center. “Eventually somebody has to pay the piper.”

A recent visit to several head shops located near the intersection of Clark and Belmont in Chicago turned up no shortage of suppliers, and although store representatives refuse to speak on the record, two vendors say that interest in K2 has increased substantially in recent months.

Skokie Police Department officer Sgt. Krupnik says that despite media reports, the department hasn’t dealt with many problems related to the drug, but he cautioned that driving under the influence is illegal whether the substance ingested is legal or not.

“Even an over-the-counter substance can impair a driver,” Krupnik says. “We want to get any impaired drivers off the road.”

According to Morelli, any substance that makes people high should be avoided.

“A person doesn’t need any kind of substance to feel good about him or herself,” Morelli says.