A drug called spice 

A local storeowner called the other day to laugh at the Indianapolis media coverage of "spice," a legally available incense that people are smoking to get high.

The Star called spice "10 times more powerful than marijuana," and WXIN (Channel 59) reported that "it's cheap, it isn't regulated, it causes serious impairment, and it can have severe side affects."

"It's like Reefer Madness," he said, referring to the cartoonish 1936 movie about the supposed dangers of smoking pot. "Ten times more powerful than marijuana? How would they even measure that?"

This retailer — who sells spice under the product name K2 to customers 18 and older only — didn't want his name to be used because a shop owner in Lawrence, Kan., was busted in February for selling this legal mixture of herbs. No sense calling attention to himself, the storeowner figures.

But he did give me the name of his supplier, Mark Taylor, who sells from his web site allk2.com. On the site, Taylor lays out the ingredients: Canavalia rosea (bay bean); Clematis vitalba (old man's beard); Nelumbo nucifera (Indian lotus); Pedicularis grandifolia (elephant's head); Heimia salicifolia (sinicuichi); Leonurus sibiricus (Siberian motherwort); Ledum palustre (Marsh Labrador tea). Google them and you'll find them described commonly as varieties of homeopathic herbs.

On the phone, Taylor, 25, who lives in the Tampa, Fla., area, said K2 is a kind of incense. The correct use is to put it in an incense burner and enjoy the aroma. The scent is supposed to be relaxing.

"It's not meant to be smoked," he said. "It's an aroma thing. It smells like gingerbread. It's not something that should be used recreationally like that. But everything can be abused, I guess."

Like people who huff (inhale household chemicals to get high).

Or people who sniff glue.

Or people who figured out a way to turn Sudafed into methamphetamine, he pointed out.

Taylor said he first heard about spice two years ago from a Tampa florist who was a friend of his mother's. He decided to go into business for himself; he's been selling for about two months. He said he sells mostly to head shops — his biggest sale was 2½ kilos — but also to individuals, who pay $22 and up.

"Business is great," he said.

He doesn't sell to customers in any states that have made it illegal. The web site says he cannot ship to Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee or Georgia.

And he labels all his packages with warnings: Not fit for human consumption. For novelty purposes only. For adults 18 and over. "Short of stamping it on our forehead or putting a pass code on the package before you open it, there's nothing really more you can do."

Taylor, who's a commercial fisherman when he's not selling K2, said he probably won't be in business long. He expects the authorities to outlaw spice, which he thinks is ridiculous since it's easy enough for people to make on their own. Of course, as he points out, "a lot of people can make Windex, too."

The Indianapolis retailer who shared Taylor's contact information also expects lawmakers to eventually criminalize spice. He, too, thinks that's a waste of time.

"You can buy alcohol down the street," he said. "That's way more dangerous."

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Marc Allan

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