COLUMN: Nothing fake about the high from 'fake pot'

Monday, February 15, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 2:14 p.m. CST, Monday, February 15, 2010

I'm high on fake pot right now.

When I first wrote that sentence, I was. My plan was to sample K2 — a substance that legislators say mimics the effects of marijuana — and write about the experience in real time.

Unfortunately, the high provided by the "fake pot" was quite real, restricting my movements to laying in an easy chair and watching television.

I first became aware of the pot substitute from an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Feb. 4. On the same day, a bill to make K2 and similar products illegal — sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia — was read for the second time on the Senate floor.

Before I go any further, I must admit I don't care for marijuana. My limited encounters with the drug have produced feelings of alienation and a strong desire for solitude and sleep. The issue of marijuana's legality is not the point of this piece; I'm just offering my own experiences.

That said, my curiosity for this new, legal substance outweighed my distaste for the drug's effects. How could a substance that mimics the effects of marijuana be available and how could I have never heard about it?

Around 2 p.m. Friday afternoon, I decided to obtain herbal incense — the technical name for fake pot — and report on its effects. I feel it necessary to note this experiment was not suggested nor approved by an editor or any other individual connected to MU. I am quite capable of thinking up stupid ideas on my own.

At 3:30 p.m. I set out to obtain K2, or a similar substance. I live in a liberal, college town filled with dirty hippies, I thought, how hard could it be to find this currently legal pot substitute?

I began my search at the Peace Nook on Broadway, a name that to me suggested a head shop. Unfortunately, the Peace Nook did not stock herbal incense, though the helpful clerk was nice enough to alert me to two Columbia businesses that did — Dreams Smoke Shop and Bocomo Bay.

Dreams was my next stop, for the simple reason it was within walking distance of downtown. I identified myself as a reporter interested in information on K2 and was immediately met with strong resistance.

"Yeah, I know what K2 is, but we don't have it right now," the clerk said.

"Do you know when you will have more," I asked.

"Nope, it just depends on when she comes," he said.

"So she," (an odd term in reference to a business supplier) "doesn't deliver K2 on a specific day," I asked.

"Nope, it depends on when she comes," the clerk responded.

I asked if the clerk knew where I might go to obtain K2 and his response was equally weird.

"I know some places, but I doubt they have any," he said. "I think the town is all out."

Somewhat defeated and confused by his answers, I called Bocomo Bay to check their supply. The person who answered the phone informed me that they carried many varieties of herbal incense and had them in stock.

Asked about the town currently being out of the substance, the employee informed me that not only did they have it, but they planned on carrying quite a robust stock.

Upon entering Bocomo Bay and asking for K2, the clerk asked if I had used it before. When I said no, the clerk suggested that I start with either Pink or Summit and work my way up to using the other two varieties.

I don't know how much marijuana costs, but three grams of K2 cost $30. As this experiment was not sanctioned, I will not be reimbursed.

In what I initially assumed was a head shop upsell, the clerk asked me if I had an incense burner. I'm not going into debt any further for this story, I thought, especially since the alleged high comes from smoking, not burning the K2.

"I already have a burner," I falsely informed the clerk in an attempt to end his sales pitch.

"No, with this you need a really small burner," the clerk said while producing a box of thin metal pipes.

For those who have not been to a "smoke shop," there are a number of words customers are not to use. Referring to a "bong," for example, will result in immediate expulsion from the shop. The proper term is tobacco pipe.

With that in mind, however, I didn't see how this pipe could be classified as anything but a device for ingesting smoke. The thin metal pipe — also called a "one-hitter" — had a large opening at one end and a much smaller one at the other. It would be impossible to use the device to simply burn incense without drawing smoke in off the smaller end — a practice the K2 label warns against.

I ended up purchasing the "burner," too. I'm completely incompetent at rolling a joint.

Spending $36.56 on the K2 and pipe, I headed home assured that I had just wasted money. How could a substance that mimicked marijuana possibly be put on a debit card? He should have tried to sell me X-ray glasses as well.

Keeping in mind the clerk's warning to start slow, I filled the pipe twice and smoked it.  Not more than 10 minutes later, my skepticism had faded into a haze of warmth and lethargy.

Unable (or perhaps unwilling) to begin my writing assignment, I instead grabbed a notebook to record the effects. They included:

  • A tingle in my jaw
  • Feelings of self-doubt (I should note that these are frequently present)
  • Sweating
  • A heightened awareness of music
  • Alternating feelings of nausea and hunger
  • Sleepiness
  • Enjoyment while watching "Celebrity Rehab"

I'm still amazed I was able to watch 45 minutes of "Celebrity Rehab," a show I generally find distasteful. With the exception of a trip to the kitchen to make a quesadilla and a phone call from my wife, the majority of my high was spent watching "Celebrity Rehab," "Law and Order" and a show I had never heard of, "Criminal Minds." In retrospect, an embarrassingly stereotypical way to spend an afternoon.

The call from my wife, who seemed to find my experiment either amusing or annoying, produced another effect of the K2, the inability to remember words. On multiple occasions, I was unable to produce the word I was looking for, instead ending sentences with "Oh, you know what I mean."

My wife asked what K2 was, a question I was unable to answer. No ingredient list adorns the back of the package, something the Post-Dispatch article pointed out. Also fascinating, the Post-Dispatch reported a supplier of K2 to some vendors in St. Louis refused to say where he obtains the product. Perhaps the "mystery she" the clerk at Dreams spoke of?

A mysterious woman selling an unspecified substance, a perfect character for a Fleetwood Mac song.

The fate of this woman and her gold dust is now in the hands of Missouri's General Assembly, a decision I care to comment neither for nor against.

The potency of her gold dust, however, is most certainly not a mirage.

Jeremy Essig, a graduate student at MU, has covered state government for the Missourian since August of 2009. He is currently serving as an assistant statehouse editor for the Missouri Press Association. Jeremy can be reached at

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Ray Shapiro February 15, 2010 | 9:29 p.m.

Like all substance abuse it can lead to other substance abuse.
This all started for you by first abusing your freedom, then you abused your debit card and then you abused a mind altering drug which led to your abuse of television programming.
What's next?
Abusing your frequent flyer miles to take a trip around the Bermuda Triangle?

(Report Comment)
Dan Viets February 15, 2010 | 10:17 p.m.

So, the question before the legislature is whether Jeremy and others like him should be criminals, felons, sent to prison. The fact that sellers are worried about the law is only a logical reaction to the political/media hype about this. No one in the legislature seems to suggest doing scientific study or simply analyzing the ingredients. They just go directly to making new crimes and sending more non-violent defendants to prison-exactly what the Mo. Supreme Court's Chief Justice, an Ashcroft appointee, warned against in his speech to the legislature last Wednesday!

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 16, 2010 | 12:02 a.m.

My question is who and how is it manufactured and why is an unregulated poison being allowed to be sold to teenagers from a head shop and on the street?
Are the Feds getting into this or must the states now regulate psychoactive substances on their own?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 16, 2010 | 7:28 a.m.

The guy that initially prepared it has undergrad chemistry students synthesizing analogs of it here:

What is described here is not a difficult synthesis. It's likely, that since JWH-018 is still a legal compound, that it is being synthesized commercially rather than in a clandestine lab. It would probably be difficult to get the precursor chemicals without arousing suspicion - indoles can be used to make things like DMT.

It's likely the fed will regulate this within the next year or two. Since it seems to have the same low acute toxicity as THC, it's unlikely to cause any more trouble that regular marijuana does.


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 16, 2010 | 7:50 a.m.

Come on Mark. It's got to be just as bad, or even worse, than marijuana.
Just look at what it did to Jeremy's hair!!

(Report Comment)
Jeremy Essig February 16, 2010 | 5:52 p.m.


Kudos on the hair comment, although you should know I cut that myself.


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 16, 2010 | 8:02 p.m.

@Jeremy Essig:

I cut my own hair as well.
But I make certain I'm sober when I do so.
How'd you manage to save both ears?

Have a good night.

-Ray S.

(Report Comment)
Medical Cannabis February 20, 2010 | 4:00 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Carol Stroh April 9, 2010 | 7:04 p.m.

Where is the Facebook Connect button for this reporter's article?

(Report Comment)
joe mackenstein January 19, 2011 | 6:37 a.m.

all the effects that this reporter reported are lies, all it does is make you hungry and want to lay down but you can easily be up and doing things, i go to football practice high all the time. it makes everything fun.

(Report Comment)
robert link January 19, 2011 | 7:13 a.m.

"I live in a liberal, college town filled with dirty hippies"
"I began my search at the Peace Nook on Broadway, a name that to me suggested a head shop."

Such statements in this article should limit all credibilty.

(Report Comment)
Gregory Brown January 19, 2011 | 8:34 a.m.

The Solons of Jeff seem eager to criminalize any mind altering substances EXCEPT alcohol and tobacco, and suck up to casino operators despite the recognition that gambling is an addiction. Last year, they outlawed a number of substances inhaled to produce states that range from delightful warmth to dizziness and headaches. The broad range of inhalants aka "poppers" are now illegal to sell,possess or use in Missouri. Heavy fines for sellers are one thing and enforceable, but fines and other punishment for users are roughly on par with those levied on hard drug fans. The legislation created another category for interference in individual behaviors that are harmful only to some people who choose to abuse what are potentially dangerous but less so than getting drunk every day. And if an individual is somehow apprehended, a simple personal indulgence in sniffing something like industrial solvents can result in a criminal record.
It's not big Brother that worries me so much as his gaggle of short-sighted fools who must really want to see more Missourians in jail or prison, where they can make amazing new friends who might teach them some useful skills.

(Report Comment)
Gregory Brown January 19, 2011 | 8:38 a.m.

A side note: Jeremy must have been indeed in an altered state of mind to watch that much of Celebrity Rehab, and THEN endure the preposterous posturings of Criminal Minds that combination could induce sleep and lethargy in a hyperactive child.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire January 20, 2011 | 5:52 p.m.

I have some experience with that. It sometimes worked on me but often was barely notable. When it did work it was rare that it worked for any appreciable length of time. It left me feeling a bit spent afterward, when any positive effect has long dissipated. A comparable amount of marijuana would leave me still feeling high at a comparable time. Typically the high that I noticed was similar to marijuana when it is just coming on with essentially nothing following it except for the side effects, which are more pronounced than any I have noticed in marijuana.

The crazy part is that marijuana can be considerably cheaper than whatever it is what we speak of. I can't understand why people use whatever it is. It has been a while since I have. I could care less if it was pulled from the market. Why hell, they can send it to IRAQ!!!

But yes, someone should test it and find out WHY it is such a nasty cheap high before they ban it. I think someone wants to ban it because they don't like the thought of people sitting around and smoking anything and feeling good about it. They don't like the people who use it. They are afraid their family members might.

(Report Comment)
Josie Jones September 21, 2011 | 3:57 p.m.

If it weren't for the prohibition of marijuana, folks would not buy k2 incense alternatives. Why would they? If people had legal access to the real deal they would not be hunting down k2 herb and the like. Just as the government has wasted endless resources chasing down marijuana, now they are going to do the same with this incense stuff. It is ridiculous and wasteful in more ways than one. How long have these products been banned, and there are still places advertising legal everywhere products like those found at .

(Report Comment)

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