LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The drug goes by many names and makers claim it has the same effects as marijuana. Those that have used synthetic marijuana say that notion is false and that they are lucky to be alive.
Synthetic marijuana first made its way to the United States from overseas in 2008. At the time, the chemical's make up gave users the same high that marijuana did but could not be detected by drug tests. In 2011, the DEA took steps to outlaw the drug, but makers just changed the formula. In Texas, it is illegal to have the man-made drug.
Noah Carnes is currently serving a nine month probation for having prescription drugs on him he was not supposed to have. Before that though, Carnes was addicted to the drug. It was an addiction that almost took his life.
"It was the middle of the night," Carnes said. "I was asleep upstairs, and I had an overdose. My parents lived downstairs, and they said they heard a loud thud of me hitting the ground, and they ran up to find me passed out. I was rushed to the hospital. I was hooked to machines and on life support. I remember waking up and pulling the cords off of me and rolling over and going to sleep. It was a wake up call to me because I could have died."
Carnes is not alone in his story. Cody Knight was put on probation for theft. While on probation, Knight got hooked.
"When I was young man, I loved to smoke weed," Knight said. "Weed was my thing. I got pulled over one day and got in trouble with some weed. I got put on probation. Of course on probation you cannot smoke weed. This was years back. The next thing you could do to get away on probation was smoke K2. It was legal. They didn't know nothing about it. Back then you got the same high. There was nothing to it. So then I started smoking it, and as the years went on of me smoking it, it got more and more addictive. Finally, I got to the point where I couldn't get off. I got down to 160 ponds. I normally weigh 220 to 230 pounds. It just got to the point where I wouldn't work no more. I was doing real bad things to stay high. I abandoned my family, and I was scared. I didn't know how to stop."
Knight, Carnes and the countless others who are rehabbing are considered lucky. Since Christmas, three people have died in Jasper and Newton Counties on what officials are calling a bad batch. Right now, federal, state, and local officials are all working on the case.
"I knew there was a problem with it, but I did not know there would be a death land in my lap," said Newton County Sheriff Billy Rawls. "We had two deaths in Jasper, and then mine happened which made three in eight days. I'm not real smart, but I would consider that an epidemic."
Rawls is newly elected but has been in law enforcement for nearly half a century.
"There's always been a drug problem," Rawls said. "The aggressiveness of the drugs has increased. I can remember when LSD was the bad-boy drug. All kind of rumors on what LSD did. It went from LSD to cocaine, to crack cocaine, to meth, to heroin, and now to K2."
Rawls said what has surprised him is how deadly the new K2 is.
"What is unusual about this drug is that it kills you now," Rawls said. "This guy was in great shape. He was walking across the highway with a gas can and right in the middle of the highway it hit him. Boom, he died and he died right there. That quick. He went one minute from laughing and cutting up to being dead."
Knight was not surprised to hear that three people have died. He admitted the drug made him a shell of what he used to be.
"I personally smoked it and had the worst trips in my life and sit there and pray to God, 'Please just let me come down. Please let me be normal again,'" Knight said. "I was so addicted. I would come back to and I would smoke it again. One time I had a bunch of seizures back to back, and my buddies just kept driving around for two days. My body went paralyzed. I couldn't move. In the hospital, I went into a coma for two months. The hospital was to the point that they were telling my mom that either put me in the nursing home or quit her job and take me home and take care of me because there was nothing else they could do."
Carnes may be clean now, but he still has long term effects from the damage the chemicals did to his body.
"The side effects I have is I won't have an appetite," Carnes said. "I will not eat for a couple of days even if I want to eat. I just can't hold it down. Maybe just a couple of bites. I can't sleep. Sometimes, I wake up at 1 in the morning and can't go back to bed. My heart will start racing. Sometimes it will go off the chart. The medicine I take helps me with my seizures. Sometimes I can go three or four days without taking the medicine. It's not too much of a damage to my body, but if it doesn't pick up that chemical then my body is going to start having side effects. My body needs a chemical dependency."
Knight no longer has seizures but knows the damage done to his body will last for years to come.
"I have ulcers throughout my chest and into my stomach to this day from it," Knight said. "My body would produce so much acid and I would never eat. My body produced so much acid, and my body was throwing it up. I have ulcers all the way down my chest and throat. They hurt. There is nothing I can do. That's because of K2."
The two men may be clean now, but with others entering the courtroom everyday, that is not the case. District Judge Bob Inselmann said he has seen a rise in drug cases over the past few months and synthetic marijuana is becoming common.
"We see a lot of problems with what they call synthetic marijuana, but it is not synthetic marijuana," Inselmann said. "It is a contraption of chemicals that are used that people are manufacturing, and it is a very dangerous drug. Drugs do scare me, but I'm telling you K2, or synthetic marijuana, really does scare me. You are a complete fool if you use it. It is a crap shoot with synthetic marijuana, K2, or those man-made drugs. You don't know what is going to happen. It is a very dangerous situation."
Knight said law enforcement has worked hard to clean up the sale of it, but it is still a problem.
"That stuff back in that day, they figured out the chemicals in it, so now people are putting in different chemicals," Knight said. "These different chemicals are what's doing it to the people. Like I told you earlier, it's not the same stuff as back in the day. The law figured out what that is. They are testing for that now. This new stuff, this is a whole different ball game. It's doing all other things wrong with your body. They're crazy. I wouldn't suggest to anybody, anybody ever smoke it because not only is it highly addictive. That stuff will kill you. Especially that stuff out there now days, that's not the old K2. That's not the K2 that got you high like weed did. You might as well go smoke some heroin, shoot some heroin, because you are going to nod out and go to sleep. You are going to be drooling all over yourself,"
Reflecting on his decisions, Carnes hopes others will not wait until it is too late to get help.
"I know people that still smoke it, and I tell them all the time, 'Man that is some bad stuff. You need to put that down,'" Carnes said. "I mean you already know it's bad, but it is worse than you think it is. You laugh at the meth heads for not being able to put down the meth, but you can't put down your joint because it gives you these little hallucinations. Get help if you need it. Don't do it on your own if you can't. Some people are strong enough to do it on their own. Some people are just too hard-headed to realize they need help, and I was one of those people."
Inselmann believes educating the public is one of the best ways to fight the drug.
"I think educating people about the dangers is the best thing," Inselmann said. "It is a situation that can literally take your life away."
As the investigation by the DEA and Newton County deputies continues, Rawls is being more forceful with his opinion on how to stop the drug from being used.
"We've all heard that saying that friends don't let friends drive drunk. Well friends don't let people use K2," Rawls said. "If they won't listen to you, knock them upside their head, tie them up to a tree. You could save their life. It could very well kill them now. Is just one of the many devils. Drugs is the devil. It breaks families up. Drugs have family members stealing from family members."
Rawls is also sending out a stern warning to whoever may have sold the drugs.
"Selling drugs that causes a death is serious federal time," Rawls said. "We are talking serious time. I'm here to tell you. If you sell drugs that takes someone's life, we are gonna hit it in a dead run to take care of you and eliminate you from our county. We're going to change that."
This is the second part in a two part web series. Click here for part one.