K2 explosion: What happened in Connecticut?

K2 in CT
Photo courtesy of Paul Bass photos, New Haven Independent

“That’s just what I do. That’s my drug of choice… It’s like a PCP high, and LSD a little bit, it’s an acquired thing, the more you do it the more you like it. Sometimes you get a freak batch a couple of times a year. It’s like Russian Roulette. The addiction draws you back.”

Roger Weeks, a local man, opened up about his experiences with K2 following an outbreak in New Haven, Connecticut, where more than 70 people overdosed in a single day.

K2 overdoses have sharply increased during the past two years according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC warns against labeling K2 as “synthetic marijuana” because even though it stimulates the same brain receptors as Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it is two to 100 times more powerful with radically different side effects. The distinction is important because people misinterpret that the drug is a “safe” alternative to marijuana. Researchers continue to study why people still use K2 and what factors contribute to its popularity.

An alternative to evade drug tests

Some of the primary goals of drug testing are to hire drug-free candidates, deter substance abuse in the workforce, and help employees maintain sobriety through monitoring during the rehabilitation process. As long as drug testing exists, people will keep using drugs and seek ways to undermine the drug testing process. Users choose K2 because its chemical components are ever-changing and can prove challenging to detect.

Changing chemical formula to evade detection

K2 was first seen in Europe in 2005 and entered the U.S. market in 2008. Originally developed by scientists to study the brain’s naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors, the chemicals made their way to the public through mass-production by clandestine laboratories. Recent laws ban many of the compounds used to create K2. However, the synthetic cannabinoid industry continues to alter the chemical composition of the drugs they produce to evade detection, staying ahead of the government. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recorded 177 different synthetic cannabinoids in 2014 alone.

An unpredictable high

In 2016, NIDA reported more than 2,000 calls to poison control centers for K2 use. In 2011, hospitals tallied more than 28,000 visits to emergency rooms related to K2. Synthetic cannabinoids have a wide range of effects that vary in severity including:

  • Elevated mood
  • Relaxation
  • Altered perception
  • Symptoms of psychosis
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Confusion

Some severe side effects include violent behavior, suicidal thoughts, seizures, and as seen in New Haven, a high potential for overdose.

Today, the U.S. faces a myriad of drug-related problems including a resurgence of cocaine use, the continuing devastation of our national opioid epidemic, and the ever-changing landscape of state marijuana legislation. The mass overdoses in New Haven from a “freak batch” of K2 bring necessary awareness to the continuing problem of synthetic cannabinoids. The drug and its manufacturers work hard to elude the law, but we must work harder to help make people aware of how devastating these drugs can be.

To learn more about testing for synthetic drugs, visit our website.