I was seeing patients the other day when I spotted a teenage boy in the waiting room whom I'd cared for since birth (one of the perks of being a pediatrician). He'd come in over lunch with his mother, who wanted him to be screened for drug use. The mother had found a "pipe" in a pair of the boy's trousers and was concerned that he was smoking marijuana.
I'm often asked to perform drug screens on kids. I think it's important to sit down with the child and his/her parents to discuss their concerns, rather than ruin the trust of the teens and blindside them with results of a drug screen obtained under false pretenses.
The teenage boy told me he'd been smoking K2, saying this was a "legal" substance you could buy over the Internet or in smoke shops. K2 is a mixture of herbal and spice products that are then sprayed with a psychotropic drug. When asked why he would smoke this mixture, the boy said it had similar effects as marijuana, leaving the user feeling good, sleepy and relaxed.
Since I didn't know anything about this new substance, I got my computer, brought it into the exam room and "googled" K2, only to see many different articles. The most interesting one was in LiveScience, written earlier this year. The story explained how K2 had been developed by a research scientist who was studying cannabinoid receptors in the brain. He'd published articles about the substance, which when first discovered went by his initials, JWH-018. He found that K2 binds to the same receptors in the brain as marijuana, and that it's actually much more potent than marijuana.
K2 may be 10 times more active than THC (marijuana), and while it may have many of the same effects as the high experienced with marijuana, it's also been found to cause hallucinations and seizures.
Upon further investigation online, I found that K2 is becoming a problem in many states. It has already been declared illegal in Kansas. There are concerns that the drug has caused adverse effects and led to ER visits due to hallucinations, vomiting, elevated blood pressure and heart rate -- not typical symptoms seen with marijuana. K2 does not show up on routine drug screens.
A researcher in St. Louis is studying K2 and seeking urine samples obtained from teens who've used the substance. I called several private labs in my area and they did not have the capability of testing for it. The good news in my patient's case is that he told me about K2, had not smoked it in several weeks, and his urine drug screen was negative for marijuana and other drugs.
Oh, the things we must learn to keep up with adolescents! Kids are smart and clever, and will do almost anything for a "high," especially in this case with a product that's easily obtained and legal. After a lengthy discussion with this boy and his mother, I understand that K2 use is quite prevalent in his high school, even among the "non-drug" crowd.
I will continue researching this topic and keep you posted, but if you have an adolescent who exhibits odd behavior and may even require a visit to the ER for a suspected overdose -- yet the drug screen comes back -- be aware of K2.
Lastly, talk to your teens, they are probably already in the know.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun