Christopher Dailey, then the principal of Batavia High School, remembers the first time school officials came across a student with a lip balm-like container of K2.
"He handed it over to me and said, 'It's OK, it's legal,' " Daily recalled. "I turned it over and read the back label. I said, 'Did you read this?' He said he hadn't. He didn't know what it said. It read, 'NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.' "
While synthetic marijuana is a fairly recent issue for school officials to deal with in Batavia, Dailey emphasized it has not become a widespread problem. He characterized it as a "fad," but he also called it, "scary."
Scary is the same word used by local law enforcement and others familiar with a variety of chemicals and compounds being marketed most often as "incense" with clear instructions saying "not for human consumption."
Some of the compounds are available in Batavia retail stores, though Dailey said students interviewed by school officials indicate the chemicals are being purchased most often on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation.
The compounds fall under the general description of synthetic marijuana, synthetic cocaine and synthetic meth. Commercially, the chemical agents are known as Spice and K2 for synthetic marijuana and Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky and Bliss for synthetic cocaine and meth.
All of the compounds are currently legal and unregulated in New York. You must be 18 years old to buy a pack of cigarettes, but there is no age restriction on Spice or K2.
Synthetic cocaine and meth are more commonly referred to as "bath salts."
While the chemicals are meant to simulate the highs of marijuana or cocaine, they have been known to cause sever reactions, from seizures, rapid heart rates, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain, suicidal tendencies and psychosis.
There's some speculation locally that synthetic marijuana or "bath salts" are related to the outbreak of tics among teenage girls in Le Roy. When The Batavian asked Dr. Jonathan Mink about a possible connection Tuesday, he immediately shifted to a discussion of stimulants such as cocaine and said the dosage of cocaine needed to cause tics would be significant and manifest other symptoms.
Wednesday, we asked Dr. Mink to clarify whether synthetic drugs could cause tics and he said it's not a subject he has studied and lacked sufficient expertise to offer an opinion on it.
Jeremy Almeter, owner of Glass Roots on Center Street, said he gets people coming into his shop two or three times a day asking for Spice or K2. They leave disappointed.
"I won't sell it," Almeter said.
Walk into Glass Roots and it's like stepping into a time machine, back into 1960's Haight-Ashbury counterculture, but Almeter said he's seen too many problems caused by fake drugs and doesn't want his business associated with the chemicals at all.
"It just blows my mind that people would use that stuff," Almeter said. "It says right on the label, 'not for human consumption.' A lot of kids seem to think, 'it's legal so it's OK,' but actually the things that are legal are more harmful that what's illegal, specifically marijuana."
Almeter believes the spread of synthetic drugs bolsters the case for legalizing marijuana, a natural substance with effects that are known and generally not harmful. Marijuana could also more easily be controlled, whereas with synthetic drugs, they get re-engineered every time a substance gets outlawed.
In Rochester, a couple of hookah shops have opened where anybody can go in and smoke K2 or bath salts, but Almeter said he wants to offer an alternative.
Recently, he opened his own hookah room, but only offers tobacco-free, all-natural aromatics. Nothing he offers will get a person high. The idea is to sit around and enjoy some pleasant aromas and pleasant conversation.
The Laughing Buddha on Ellicott Street in Batavia advertises on its Facebook page that it sells "incense."
Premium Blend Spice & Incense, We wholesale it as well, Guaranteed best prices around on your favorite kinds such as Hammer Head, White Rhino & Grim Reefer.
Displayed in the store today were dozens of packages of White Rhino behind a glass counter.
The owner of the shop is Jay Lang, who also owns Batavia Cab Co., and at one time, Lang mentioned on Facebook that customers could have products from Laughing Buddha delivered right to their door by a cab driver.
Today, Lang said he discontinued the practice after considering the legal implications.
"What we carry is legal and we sell it as incense," Lang said. "It's lab tested and DEA compliant. Every package comes with a warning label."
Lang said that if a customer indicates they are using the substances for anything other than incense, they are "cut off." He said he won't knowingly sell the substances to anybody he believes is consuming it.
The synthetic drugs have also been displayed on the counters of other Batavia retailers in recent months.
The use of synthetic weed in area high schools is more prevalent than school officials believe, Almeter suggested.
Dailey, who is now assistant superintendent for the Batavia City School District, said there have been times when kids came to school under the influence of fake marijuana. When it happens, he said, parents are contacted and generally the parents take the student straight to a doctor.
Because it's legal, "there's a limit on how much we can do," Dailey said. "We're as proactive as we possibly can be and we work closely with police on monitoring it and we discuss the dangers in our health classes."
For local law enforcement, the main time synthetic drugs become a legal issue is when people drive under the influence of the drugs, which is a crime.
A volunteer firefighter was recently arrested. He originally offered himself as an interview subject for this story, but later didn't show up for his interview appointment. In a pre-interview conversation, he said the arrest didn't go over well with his superiors and it opened his eyes to the dangers of fake marijuana.
While sources in law enforcement said they haven't seen a lot of those kinds of arrests, driving under the influence of anything is dangerous.
"People have to understand that while legal, much like alcohol if you’re over 21, it can still be abused and misused and effect your ability to make decisions and operate a vehicle," said Sgt. Steve Mullen, head of the Local Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Mullen said that he and his agents are focused on investigating the sale of controlled substances such as crack cocaine and heroin, so it's hard for him to confirm that the use of synthetic drugs locally is on the rise.
But he also doesn't get why people use these substances.
"It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me," Mullen said. "It says right on the packages, 'not for human consumption,' so not from a law enforcement perspective, just personally, from a commonsense perspective, if it says 'don't consume,' then why would you consume it?"
UPDATE 10:57 p.m.: On Facebook, Jay Lang is complaining the article makes it sound like his shop sells bath salts. The article states what he's advertised as products in his store and the one product I observed in his store. Those products are not known as bath salts. While law enforcement officials have told me bath salts have been known to show up in the community, there is no specific retail outlet mentioned in this article that is believed to sell bath salts.