by Max Brantley
Here's a draft of the proposed rule making marketing of the substance a misdemeanor.
I think reporting will show that efforts to criminalize every new legal variant of an illegal drug is an exercise in futility, but there do appear to be health risks associated with this substance. Marijuana on the other hand ....
More from Leslie Newell Peacock, including UPDATE from Health Department:
Halverson will cite a state statute that allows the Health Department to act to prohibit "chemical exposure." The emergency rule, which would be in effect for 120 days, will likely apply to sales only; violation of the rule would be a misdemeanor.
The agency's other emergency option was to classify K2 a Schedule 1 drug, along with methamphetamine, heroine and other drugs. Sale or possession of Schedule 1 drugs is a felony, a heavy hit for synthetic pot.
Halverson's move comes after big pressure from state Rep. Donna Hutchinson, R-Bella Vista, who asked for an attorney general's opinion on the authority of the Health Department. Several cities and states in Northwest Arkansas have already passed ordinances making the compounds found in K2 and Spice illegal.
The Health Department is still working on a test that would detect the derivatives of the psychoactive compounds in a urine sample. Use would be impossible to prosecute until that test is complete.
UPDATED STATE NEWS RELEASE
According to Joe Bates, MD, Deputy State Health Officer and Chief Science Officer at the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), some new research results from the State Public Health Laboratory and the State Crime Laboratory have prompted the move.
"We have learned that both the potency levels of the drug itself and the consistency with which it is applied varies a great deal in samples we have obtained here in the state," Bates added. "What that means is that there may be no way to know when you are about to inhale too much of this drug, which concerns us especially when it is being used by young people and children. The specific biological effects and interactions among these chemical compounds are largely unknown."
Animal studies have shown that these substances may be four to ten times more potent than the active ingredient in marijuana. Reports from poison control centers, emergency rooms and private physicians in Arkansas and around the country indicate that use of this substance, alone or in combination with other substances, may cause symptoms including a rapid heart rate, dangerously high blood pressure and sometimes hallucinations or paranoia.
According to Bates, it is clear that there are negative effects on the respiratory, cardiovascular and central nervous system that are dangerous. It is also likely that impaired judgment would also be a safety risk to drivers or operators of heavy equipment.
The Department of Health issued an advisory on March 17 to physicians in the state about possible side-effects that have been reported from the use of the marijuana-like substance.
The substance, manufactured primarily in China, contains a chemical compound that has no known beneficial commercial use, and has not been approved by the FDA for human use. These synthetic chemicals are sprayed on a dried plant material which is then smoked and inhaled.
The cannabinoid-like substance in this product acts on the same brain receptors as does marijuana. A great many of these substances have been synthesized and it would not be possible to know how much or which, if any, of these many synthetics are present in "K2" without doing an extensive chemical analysis.
"K2" and similar products do not test positive as marijuana or as any other illicit substance when subjected to urine drug testing.
"However, we have found a way to test urine samples from individuals who have used the substance that will indicate whether K-2 has been used by someone or not," Bates said. "Until now, we didn't have a way to prove that." The active ingredient in K-2 does not show up on any standard drug screens in use today.
Paul Halverson, DrPH, State Health Officer and Director of the Arkansas Department of Health said, "The Board of Health takes seriously its responsibility to protect the health of the people of Arkansas. In circumstances like these, they will consider the available evidence, the recommendations of public health experts and existing scientific facts in determining the best course of action."
The substance has been banned in several cities and counties in Arkansas and in some states, including Kansas, Kentucky and Alabama. Legislatures in Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee have passed bans that will take effect unless vetoed by their governors. Other states are also acting to make this substance illegal, but no similar action has yet been taken at the state or federal level that would make its use illegal.