The highs, lows, of something called ‘Kush’

Known as “Krypton­ite,” “K2” or “Kush,” the herb­al in­cense sup­posedly of­fers a high com­par­able to marijuana, but just how leg­al is this stuff?


“Oh, that stuff,” the wo­man be­hind the counter said.

She and a co-work­er had answered with blank looks when they had been asked if their Frank­ford Av­en­ue con­veni­ence store car­ried “Krypton­ite,” “K2” or “Chron­ic.” Asked about “Kush,” one nod­ded.

“I don’t know if we still have any,” she said, and then dir­ec­ted an­oth­er co-work­er to “look in the safe.”

The Kush sold at the store came in a 3-inch-by-4-inch foil en­vel­ope clearly marked as “herb­al in­cense.” The small pack­age’s 1.5 grams (about a tea­spoon) sold for more than $14, in­clud­ing state sales tax. It also was clearly labeled that it was not for sale to minors and that it was “not in­ten­ded for hu­man con­sump­tion!”

Well, that might be true if you con­fine the mean­ing of the word “con­sump­tion” to a syn­onym for “eat.”

People don’t eat it, one con­veni­ence store work­er told a re­port­er. They smoke it to get a marijuana-like high, one they be­lieve to be a leg­al high, and one they be­lieve won’t be de­tect­able if their ur­ine is tested for marijuana, the store work­er said.

People go­ing to drug re­hab­il­it­a­tion pro­grams on Frank­ford Av­en­ue seem to share the be­lief that they’ll test “clean” after us­ing Kush or products like it to get high, the store work­er said. It’s a big selling point, he said. Wheth­er the people who smoke it ac­tu­ally get high might be a mat­ter of per­son­al in­ter­pret­a­tion.

And wheth­er they get leg­ally high is sub­ject to in­ter­pret­a­tions that might not be easy to un­der­stand.

Kush was labeled as “lab cer­ti­fied” that it did not con­tain an al­pha­nu­mer­ic soup of in­gredi­ents. At an­oth­er con­veni­ence store not far from the first, a sim­il­ar en­vel­ope sold as “un­be­liev­able strength” K2 Kush was labeled as be­ing “DEA com­pli­ant” — whatever that means, said Nils Ha­gen-Fre­deriksen, a spokes­man for Pennsylvania At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Linda Kelly.

It’s prob­ably B.S., Dawn Dearden, a spokes­wo­man for the U.S. Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, said last week.

Syn­thet­ic marijuana is not leg­al in Pennsylvania and hasn’t been since a law that also made so-called “bath salts” il­leg­al went in­to ef­fect in March 2011, Ha­gen-Fre­deriksen said in an in­ter­view on Fri­day.

Dearden said what is known gen­er­ally as syn­thet­ic marijuana is ma­ter­i­al that is sprayed with sub­stances that can mim­ic the in­gredi­ents in real marijuana that pro­duce its high. The chem­ic­als sprayed are called syn­thet­ic can­nabin­oids, she said. So what is it sprayed on? One of the products a re­port­er pur­chased last week in Frank­ford said it con­tained hops and lem­on balm as well some oth­er com­mon, eas­ily grown plants.

There are hun­dreds of syn­thet­ic can­nabin­oids, Dearden said. More than a year ago, the DEA “emer­gency sched­uled,” or tem­por­ar­ily banned, five of them.

Since then, “chem­ists” have be­gun us­ing oth­er sim­il­ar, but not banned, can­nabin­oids, she said.

As far as test­ing “clean,” users might be right, she said, adding she doesn’t think there are drug tests that will de­tect syn­thet­ic marijuana. But, she said, she be­lieved tests are be­ing de­veloped to spot it.

There’s noth­ing on the la­bels of Kush or K2 Kush — or oth­er products sim­il­arly pack­aged — that de­scribe them as syn­thet­ic marijuana or marijuana-like.

Look on the In­ter­net, though, and it’s easy to find sites and blogs in which the ef­fects of these products are de­scribed, ex­plained, praised or de­rided. Some blog­gers said they thought these products provide nice highs, but oth­er blog­gers said they felt their hearts ra­cing or ex­per­i­enced oth­er scary re­ac­tions.

Dearden said users don’t really know what they’re get­ting from product to product or from vendor to vendor. A “chem­ist” might spray on a sub­stance in a quant­ity that makes it sev­er­al times more power­ful than real marijuana.

“It’s a crap shoot,” she said, adding there have been re­ports of med­ic­al prob­lems like ra­cing heart rates and the shakes.

The safety of these products is not only in ques­tion, their leg­al­ity re­mains un­cer­tain, too.

That came up at a re­cent Frank­ford com­munity meet­ing. The own­er of a neigh­bor­hood con­veni­ence store wanted to know if the stuff really is il­leg­al. He pro­duced a dis­trib­ut­or’s mail­ing he had re­ceived that en­cour­aged him to stock up on “Krypton­ite” be­fore a ban goes in­to ef­fect.

Two po­lice of­ficers at the meet­ing said they didn’t know about that. The storeown­er said he had heard an­oth­er loc­al busi­ness own­er had been ar­res­ted for selling it, but Tasha Jamer­son, a spokes­wo­man for Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­lams, said she didn’t know of any such pro­sec­u­tions.

Dearden said that, when the DEA “emer­gency sched­uled” the five chem­ic­als most of­ten used to man­u­fac­ture syn­thet­ic marijuana, the agency was in­und­ated with phone calls from storeown­ers who wanted more in­form­a­tion about the ban.

That was in 2010, she said, so any­body who is still selling the stuff has since re­stocked.

Dearden said the U.S. Sen­ate is con­sid­er­ing a meas­ure that would more gen­er­ally out­law the chem­ic­als used to cre­ate syn­thet­ic marijuana.

But users and sellers have some things to keep in mind.

Just be­cause the la­bel on a product says it doesn’t con­tain the banned chem­ic­als, Dearden said, doesn’t mean that it really is free of those sub­stances. That should be an im­port­ant con­sid­er­a­tion for any­one who sells it, Dearden said.

Why? She ex­plained that it’s the per­son who sells a banned sub­stance who gets in­to trouble — just like any drug deal­er would.•• 


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