This imitation marijuana is sold under brand names such as K2, So-Cal Spice and Hawaiian Haze. It's being sold legally in smoke shops but health experts say it's harmful and should be considered a controlled substance
An increasing number of patients entering the hospital with adverse affects to "fake weed" has health experts urging legislators to ban the product without delay.
For now, Illinois remains one of a few states still selling synthetic marijuana, which is also known as K2, So-Cal Spice and Hawaiian Haze. It's a mix of mystery plants made of leaves, stems and dried flowers which are sprayed with a synthetic substance called JWH 018.
"It should not be legal. And especially not to be used as a recreational drug," says Dr. Jerrold Leikin, Director of Medical Toxicology at North Shore University Health Systems.
The controversial substance could be outlawed soon. Both the Illinois House and Senate passed legislation to outlaw the drug and the bill awaits Pat Quinn's signature. Quinn has 60 days to sign it.
That's good news Leikin who describes a disturbing trend of patients coming in with symptoms like increased heart rate, loss of consciousness, seizures, convulsions high blood pressure and psychosis. There have been no deaths attributed to this product in Illinois.
The unknown combination of plants is what troubles toxicologists like Warren Cooper, the owner of Accu Lab Medical Testing.
"You need to know what you are putting in your body. You wouldn't just go out and drink Drano if you knew it was Drano," he said, adding that those who smoke it can get a high four or fives times greater than smoking marijuana.
Despite the risks, K2 is big business in Chicago.
"I understand some of the stores are making $20- $30- and $50,000 per month additional sales in real money. But I'm not greedy" he says. Another shop clerk who does sell K2 products admits under the veil of anonymity that "it is a substantial moneymaker."