Products that mimic the effects of marijuana and have potentially dangerous side effects are being sold via popular online shopping web sites like Amazon.com, and at suburban malls, convenience stores and gas stations.
High school students and members of the military use "legal marijuana" or "herbal incense," marketed as K2, Spice and Potpourri, to get high because the products are legal, easily available and do not show up on drug tests.
They can also be inexpensive. "Purple Diesel Spice - Twisted Pourri," packaged with a bright purple label, sells for just $7.99 per gram via Amazon. An ABC News investigation found these products available on-line and at stores for anywhere from $15 to $85. Amazon.com did not respond to requests for comment.
The innocuous sounding names belie the ugly and sometimes devastating side effects, according to Missouri Poison Control Center Director Anthony Scalzo.
Scalzo said the side effects include heart rate stimulation to exaggerated levels, extreme blood pressure elevation, agitation, paranoia, and hallucinations. "Beyond the acute effects [there] are psychiatric effects that have led individuals to harm themselves, sometimes fatally, and exhibit extreme paranoia and delusions not unlike schizophrenia or other psychoses," said Scalzo.
The products have spurred more than 4,000 calls to poison control centers around the country since 2010 and have been linked to deaths. The parents of 18-year-old David Rozga of Indianola, Iowa say their son committed suicide after he smoked K2 and became overwhelmed with anxiety.
"He just continued to become agitated -- indicating that he felt like he was in hell," said David's father Mike Rozga.
Detective Sergeant Brian Sher, who investigated Rozga's death for the Indianola police department, is adamant that smoking K2 is the only thing that could have triggered the suicide. "I want people to know that," said Sher. "There are nay-sayers, but I can say definitively there's just nothing in the investigation to show that. Given what we know about K2 and Spice, David's anxiety, his feeling like he was in hell, has happened in many other cases."