When Joanne Hoffman’s daughter returned from a year in rehab for opiate addiction, she knew her parents would be drug testing her on regular basis. So she began smoking another drug, one that’s legal and doesn’t show up on home drug tests, her mother said.

“She was sleeping a lot, lacked motivation, and couldn’t find a job at holiday time,” Hoffman said. “My husband searched her car and found the K2. As is the case with many kids, once they start with one drug it can lead to others. This time in addition to smoking K2, she also started smoking crack.”

K2 is an herb sprayed with a synthetic substance designed to mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Hoffman spoke at a press event to promote a bill that would ban the sale of synthetic cannabis and another substance, a naturally occurring hallucinogen called salvia.

“Both of these substances are not detectable in drug tests that are routinely conducted by law enforcement, possibly in schools, in the work place, or in the military,” said Sen. Andrea L. Stillman, D-Waterford, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Stillman said that smoking synthetic cannabis like K2 can cause panic attacks and seizures, while salvia causes profound hallucinogenic reactions.

Since 2009, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has reported an increased number of reports from poison centers, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies regarding products like K2, according to a December report from the Office of Legislative Research. The National Poison Control Center also is reporting an increase in calls from 14 in 2009 to more than 2,000 last year, according to the Connecticut Prevention Network.

“It’s time to ban the sale and possession of these substances and I, along with many of my fellow legislators, many of whom are not here because it’s a busy first day in the legislature, but we are introducing a bill to do just that,” she said.

The DEA had said that it would be issuing a ban on products like K2 in December of last year, however the agency has put that ban off until February, Stillman said. Currently K2 can be purchased as incense with no age requirement.

“So at the state level we must formulate policy and pass law as necessary to protect people from their harmful effect. As many as two dozen other states have enacted or are considering laws to do this and I feel Connecticut is behind the curve and we’re hoping to change that,” she said.

Nineteen states have or are considering banning salvia, which is currently regulated similarly to tobacco, Stillman said.

“The trouble is, because they are not controlled substances and therefore exist outside the boundaries of federal laws it does create an issue for those of us who write laws,” she said.

Stillman suggested that the enforcement of the law should be similar to the punishments currently given for convictions of sale and possession of marijuana. 

When asked if there have been any recorded deaths as a result of use of either drug, Stillman indicated that, unfortunately, there had been but had no specific information about the incident. But a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Justice said that there have been no reported deaths by overdose.

Daniel Malo of Free the Leaf, a cannabis law reform group, said the bill ignores salvia’s use as a spice and incense and its potential medicinal uses. Malo added that the use of the substances as recreational drugs highlights a larger problem.

“It shows the failure of our drug policy,” he said Monday. “[Because marijuana is illegal] people move on to dangerous substitutes that can be just some chemicals thrown together.”