I was seeing patients the other day when I saw a teenage boy that I have taken care of since he was born (one of the perks of being a pediatrician). He came in over lunch with his mother, as she had called me earlier that morning, and she wanted him to have a drug screen. She had found a “pipe” in some pants of his and she was concerned that he was smoking marijuana. I am often asked to perform drug screens on kids, and I really think it is important to sit down with the child and parents to discuss their concern, rather than ruin the trust of the teen, and blindside them with the results of a drug screen obtained under false pretenses.
So…the point of this is that the adolescent told me that he had been smoking K2. He told me that it was a “legal” substance that you could buy over the internet or in smoke shops. K2 is a mixture of herbal and spice products that are then sprayed with a psychotropic drug. When asked why he would smoke it, he told me that it had similar effects as marijuana with an overall feeling of feeling good, sleepy, and relaxed. Seeing that I did not know anything about this new substance, I got my computer, brought it into the exam room and “googled” K2, only to see many different articles.
The most interesting was an article in LiveScience written earlier this year, that explained how K2 had been developed by a research scientist who was studying cannabinoid receptors in the brain. He had published articles about this substance (which when first discovered went by his initials, JWH-018), and had found that that K2 binds to the same receptors in the brain as marijuana, and that it is actually much more potent than marijuana. K2 may be 10 times more active than THC (marijuana) and while it may have many of the same effects as the high with marijuana, it has also been found to cause hallucinations, and seizures.
Upon further investigation, I found that it is becoming a problem in many states with plenty of information on the internet. K2 has already been declared illegal in the state of Kansas. There are concerns that this drug has caused adverse effects and ER visits due to hallucinations, vomiting, elevated blood pressure and heart rate, which are not typical symptoms seen with marijuana. K2 does not show up on routine drug screens. There is a researcher in St. Louis who is studying K2 and is seeking urine samples obtained from teens who have used the substance. I called several private labs in my area and they did not have the capability of testing for it. The good news in my patient’s case is that he told me about K2, had not smoked it in the last several weeks, and his urine drug screen was negative for marijuana and other drugs.
Oh the things we must learn to keep up with adolescents! How someone discovered the article written in scientific journals in the late 1990’s and extrapolated that this compound, which binds to the same receptors in the brain as marijuana, could be used “legally” for a high similar to “weed” is beyond me. But kids are really “smart and clever” and will do almost anything for a “high” especially in this case with a product that is easily obtained and is legal. After a lengthy discussion with this boy and his mother I understand that K2 use is quite prevalent in his high school, even among the “non-drug” crowd.
I am going to continue researching this topic and will keep you posted. But if you have an adolescent who you think exhibits odd behavior and may even require a visit to the ER for a suspected overdose, and the drug screen turns out to be negative, be aware of K2.
Lastly, talk to your teens, they are probably already in the know.
That’s your daily dose. We’ll chat again tomorrow.