The synthetic marijuana drug K2 is back in the news after a mass overdose on a New York City street early Tuesday morning. Police and first responders replied to calls of victims passing out and unresponsive after allegedly ingesting the drug sold at a nearby Big Boy Deli. According to one media outlet, the store is well-known in the community for selling the product. When police arrived, the scene was described as something out of the TV show “The Walking Dead.” Dozens of mostly young Black males wandered the streets zombie-like with many unconscious on the ground and losing control of their bladder and bowels. Residents in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood claim that K2 use in public is becoming a blight on their community.
As the crisis continued throughout the morning and afternoon, at least 33 people were taken to local hospitals for treatment.
K2 has become very popular among young teens and adults because it can be purchased over the counter for as little as $5 for small packets. The product is also sold under the name “Dank,Spice,AK-47″as well as other descriptive titles.The drug is not natural and is often some type of plant material sprayed with chemicals or packets of a crystal powder that can be smoked or sprinkled on tobacco. The drug is a mixture of various substances that are designed to bind to the receptors in the brain that are stimulated by THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that causes a high. However, there is no set standard on the potency of synthetic marijuana like K2 and users can suffer extreme anxiety, confusion, paranoia and hallucinations. It is estimated that since 2015 in New York City alone, at least 6,000 people went to emergency rooms suffering from the effects of the drug and at least two people were confirmed dead from overdose of K2.
Many synthetic marijuana products originate in China or India and the ingredients are constantly changed to circumvent federal and state laws. The National Institute of Drug Abuse stated in literature on the issue that “synthetic marijuana is also known to have psychotic effects on some users.” One mother high on the drug killed her children in June of this year. States where the sale of recreational marijuana is legal do not have the same level of abuse of K2 as compared to other states.
According to the New York City Health Department, “New K2 laws criminalize the manufacture, possession with intent to sell, and sale of synthetic cannabinoids. Selling K2 is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail, fines of more than $100,000, prosecution under federal law, closure and eviction as a ‘public nuisance,’ and suspension or revocation of DCA cigarette retail dealer license. These new laws provide the city with additional enforcement tools to reduce the presence and use of K2 by aggressively cracking down on suppliers.”