Way back in 1995, when Boyz II Men were still popular and Doc Martens were an appropriate form of footwear for someone other than a skinhead, an undergraduate student at Clemson working under Dr. John Huffman created a little something called JWH-018, a synthetic cannabinoid. Since then, this creation, K2, has become the sexiest must-have item to hit the reefer demographic since Pineapple Express was released on DVD.
"The compound was prepared in connection with our research investigating the relationship between chemical structure and biological activity for the indole class of cannabinoids," Dr. Huffman tells the City Paper in an e-mail. In layman's terms, what the student came up with was fake weed that seemed to work just like the real thing.
In 1998, JWH-018 went public when the formula was published in the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. Other scientific journals soon followed.
Needless to say, it's conceivable that Huffman never imagined his research going any further then the printed page, but it did. Once manufacturers got a hold of the formula, curiousity seekers soon began seeking out K2.
However, turning recreational drug users onto a new high was not what researchers intended. "I emphasize that this compound was not designed to be a super-THC," Huffman writes. "It should absolutely not be used as a recreational drug."
K2 is often called spice, and it is sold legally at head shops across South Carolina. Because "K2 can cause increased heart rate, loss of consciousness, paranoia, hallucinations, and psychotic episodes," the Drug Enforcement Administration has labeled K2 "a drug of concern," according to a CNN report.
However, Joan Graf, owner of both Factor Five locations and Zen House, says it's really not something to be afraid of.
"If the legal intent is respected, there's absolutely no reason it should be outlawed," she says. The legal intent, in this case, is to use K2 as an incense. Some use it for meditation.
A practicing Buddhist, Cary McCarter is experienced in the ways of K2. "I use it to create good karma and pass it on to others," says McCarter. "I'll offer the smoke to the Bodhisattva, and I'll say, 'To all beings in all existences, may they be free from their suffering."
Good karma be damned, many states are wary of the so-called incense. Currently, Kansas, Kentucky, and Iowa have banned the sale and possession of K2's active chemicals, while others are hot on their trail. And last week, Sen. Florence Shapiro of Texas told the Star Local News, "I happen to have a philosophy that government should be limited, and I think that this is one of those areas, when you get into public health, that individuals can't do for themselves," Shapiro said. "We as elected officials have a responsibility for the public health and public safety. That's a fundamental function of government."
Graf's response to the criticism?
"I can sell gerbils, but if people put them up their ass, how is that my fault?"
A strong proponent of K2 and other spices, McCarter claims he and others use the legal substance strictly for spiritual purposes. He sees a potential nationwide ban as another way to oppress freedom of religion. "Anything used outside of Christianity is a big no no," he says.
When using spice for his contemplations, McCarter first goes into a five-minute breathing exercise to clear his mind. "Then I get the incense going, and when I'm feeling nice and calm, I'll go deeper into Vipashyana."
McCarter sites recent examples of how spice has improved and amplified his meditative moments.
"I had a meditation recently where I saw a big medicine Buddha, who turned into 200 smaller Buddhas, who then shot a rainbow light into my heart shakra," says McCarter.
Graf says she'll continue to carry K2 and other spices in her shop as long as they remain legal and sees such substances as an excellent way to bypass mainstream medicine for at-home remedies.
"Pharmaceuticals don't want competition to help people feel good. They say self-medicating is a bad thing, but as soon as you can pay a doctor, then it's OK to use a feel-good drug or herb," says Graf. "You don't have to go enlist a doctor. You can do a homeopathic approach. It's great when something works, and you don't have to go through the riffraff of entitlement of the doctors and what they say."
She adds, "If someone could prove K2 is bad for the public health, I would stop selling it immediately."