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Is K2/Spice as nice as the natural benefits of marijuana?

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The Drug Policy Alliance’s website makes an excellent point that the prohibition of one drug inevitably leads to people finding an alternative.

The prohibition on drinking for those under 21 leads to more excessive drinking for underage folks when they can get their hands on liquor, whereas those over twenty-one know that their next beer is a simple few blocks away at the convenience store. Perhaps fewer people under 21 would smoke marijuana if it were lawful for them to drink alcohol — seeing that marijuana may not be much harder for underage people to buy than alcohol, and it is easier to hide in one’s pocket (although I advocate more marijuana smoking than alcohol drinking, and better yet, neither, once marijuana becomes legal). Do more people under 21 even smoke nicotine than if alcohol were legal, seeing that they can legally purchase and use tobacco starting at the age of eighteen?

For all of marijuana’s benefits and risks, it is natural, at least when not sprayed with chemical pesticides or adulterated with fillers or by falling on dirty floors or getting in unclean hands and contaminated equipment while being processed, packaged, and repackaged.

On the other hand, a popular form of fake marijuana — K2, or Spice, which is currently lawful in most states and sold by many retail shops — apparently consists of a chemical(s) sprayed on vegetable matter, to look like marijuana. Why play with nature like this, particularly after centuries if not millenia of anecdotal evidence of the relative safety and benefits of marijuana? K2 would likely have no popularity were marijuana not criminalized by the law and demonized by employers and school athletic departments.

Do not blame K2’s inventor for sales and use of Spice. CBS online quotes him as saying "People who use it are idiots."

Certainly, the discovery and history of K2 is nowhere nearly as fascinating as the discovery and history of LSD. By the same token, K2’s discovery, reported similarities to marijuana as to the high (but apparently falling short of  marijuana’s high and general effects), and generally free availability on the legal open market are fascinating. As CBS online recounts: “Dr. John Huffman [not to be mistaken with LSD inventor Albert Hofman], a Clemson University organic chemistry professor, was researching the effects of cannabinoids on the brain when his work resulted in a 1995 paper that contained the method and ingredients used to make the compound. That recipe found its way to marijuana users, who replicated Huffman’s work and began spraying it onto dried flowers, herbs and tobacco.”  

By imperfect analogy, today we see people making and selling their own K2 using Huffman’s research, just as independent chemists found a way to make and sell their own LSD —- which remained legal for part of the 1960’s before the drug laws caught up — using Albert Hoffman’s research.

Additional useful commentary and information on K2 is available at the Drug Policy Alliance’s blog, Live Science, and the University of Kansas’s newspaper.

In any event, what will drive people to smoke K2 over marijuana other than its availability at retail stores and its showing up in urine tests as something other than cannabis? Speaking from supposition rather than experience beyond having smoked marijuana a few times in high school and college, it appears that a chemical compound will be unable to match the natural superiority of marijuana. Albert Hoffman found a way to make a chemical hallucinogen, LSD, more popular than natural hallucinogens, but K2 is hardly a threat to marijuana’s marketability. Aside from those needing to pass drug tests, perhaps K2 will be popular with people who already have prior criminal convictions and  are concerned about more serious sentences for subsequent marijuana convictions due to not having a clean criminal record.

Maybe K2 will get banned in more states. New legal highs are likely to follow.

ADDENDUM: March 12, 2010: On March 10, somehow only my draft and not final version of this article originally got posted, perhaps because there were technical difficulties saving the final version. I have now fixed that.