Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law on March 23 a ban on synthetic marijuana K2 as well as bath salts sold under names such as “Red Dove” and “Ivory Wave” that can be used as a drug.
The legislation came from Virginia State Senator Mark Herring (D-33), a member of the state’s Substance Abuse Services Council.

“[Use of K2 and bath salts as a drug] are a growing trend, nationally,” said Adam Zuckerman, legislative assistant to Herring. “The theory of Virginia is that Tennessee outlawed it last year and it has spilled over the border into communities in the southwest of Virginia and began popping up all over the Commonwealth.”

Zuckerman said many senators introduced similar legislation before Herring’s got off the ground.

“They thought it was important because of the harmful effects of the drug,” Zuckerman said.

K2 is now illegal in at least 15 other states in addition to Virginia, Zuckerman said.

“Some people think that because K2 is a plant-based product, it’s safe,” said Evelyn Waring, an education coordinator for the Virginia Poison Center. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Waring said common side effects of K2 include intoxication, gastrointestinal effects like nausea, vomiting and upset stomach, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, hallucinations and paranoia.
“It’s labeled as incense, but that’s deceptive labeling,” Waring said. She said the name does not imply any potential harm.

The bath salts, which are ingested, snorted or smoked, are powdered.

“These are products that contain things that are typically thought of as a stimulant,” Waring said. “Bath salts almost always cause hallucinations and paranoia that were occasionally seen with K2, but are much more associated with bath salts.”

Waring said there are reports of people becoming violent or suicidal following the use of bath salts as a narcotic.

“The bath salt issue was added in because it’s also becoming a problem,” Zuckerman said. “I think the main thing was that these were chemicals that are really dangerous. They were causing some pretty significant side effects for people who were using them.”

Zuckerman said one primary goal of the legislation is to enact harsher penalties for people who distribute the drugs and to discourage businesses from selling them.

“Previously you could walk into a convenience store or a gas station and purchase them pretty easily,” Zuckerman said, “even though those store owners knew full well what they were selling and that it wasn’t safe.”

Zuckerman said when Herring introduced the legislation, he received several e-mails shortly thereafter from families who thanked him for doing so.

“They talked about their experiences with family members using the drugs and how devastating the consequences were,” Zuckerman said. “[The legislation is] about trying to address a substance that’s really dangerous and that people had a lot of misinformation about.”