(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - It's called Fake Weed, K2 or Spice.
But some lawmakers say the synthetic cannabinoid, legal in Michigan and all but two other states, is dangerous and needs to be banned.
K2 is the brand name for a dried herb being sold over the counter in head shops across the state, as well as in some liquor stores and gas stations.
Packaged as an incense or potpourri, it's a dried plant that's been sprayed with a cannabinoid, a chemical substance.
When smoked, it mimics -- by some accounts -- the high experienced by inhaling marijuana.
Doctors at Brighton Hospital, a substance abuse treatment facility, said more patients are coming in with ailments linked to K2.
The Oakland County Association of Police Chiefs passed a resolution last month calling on the Legislature to treat the product as a controlled substance and making it illegal to possess or sell.
"In my opinion, it's a toxic and dangerous product," said Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh. "It is another vicious turn in the path of our kids who are already faced with enough challenges."
Lawmakers target chemical-laced herb
Doctors weren't sure whether the patient admitted to Brighton Hospital's substance abuse treatment center Friday was schizophrenic or suffering the effects of smoking an herb laced with a synthetic compound.
"We're seeing K2 more and more in here," said Dr. Mark Menestrina, medical director of the hospital's detox unit. "But you just don't know what you're getting when you see it."
Oakland County Commissioners plan to consider an ordinance today that would prohibit the sale or possession of the substance.
"These products are totally unregulated," said Commissioner Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills. "I've heard concerns from local community coalitions about this."
Kansas and Missouri are the only states so far to have banned K2.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration first heard of K2 in 2008, when it started arriving in the U.S. from Europe. Since then, the agency has been getting reports of people going to emergency rooms across the United States after smoking K2.
"This is a very dangerous deal. You're putting something in your body that you don't know what it is or where it came from and wasn't made in a controlled environment," said David Ausiello, public affairs specialist with the DEA.
There are two ways for a substance to be categorized as a controlled substance, Ausiello said. Congress can pass a law or the DEA can research the product to understand the consequences of using it and make sure the science is there to back up any recommendation to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"We're in the research phase," he said.
That's too slow for state Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Blanc, who introduced a bill in April to make the product illegal in Michigan.
"I first heard about it when I got calls from residents in mid-Michigan," he said. "So I started looking into it and found out it was pretty dangerous."
He doesn't expect hearings on his bill until the fall.
Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh was concerned enough about K2 when he first heard about it this year that he sent a letter to parents in the school district warning them of the emerging problem.
"The Lake Orion Police Department ... asks that you have open and honest communication with your children on the dangers of this, as of now, legal substance," Narsh wrote.
The product, which is available at head shops across the state and in some liquor stores and gas stations, costs anywhere from $20-$50 for 3 grams.
Even Michigan NORML, a group advocating the legalization of marijuana, wants K2 banned.
"K2 is chemically altered, and we don't agree with that in any way, shape or form," said Christeen Landino, treasurer of the group. "We don't want to see anything put on medical marijuana. We care about our safety."
BY KATHLEEN GRAY - FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER