An herbal incense, 7H, marketed as potpourri but used by many as a cheap, legal alternative to marijuana, can lead to mental retardation and kidney, liver and lung failure after prolonged use.

The Kentucky State Police Crime Lab recently analyzed a package of 7H that the Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force sent for testing, task force Director Tommy Loving said. The material contained 1-(5-fluoropentyl)-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole, also called AM-2201.

Drug investigators wanted to learn what was in 7H after receiving many reports of people requiring emergency room care from using the drug, Loving said.

“Some of the businesses selling this product may claim that it is being used for potpourri, but they know very well what it is being used for,” Loving said.

Individually, both of the chemicals in 7H are banned from production in the United States, Europe and Australia, Western Kentucky University biochemist Dr. Rajalingam Dakshinamurthy said.

But when they are combined, they become a different substance - not banned, but definitely not made for human consumption, he said.

“This is a big problem in Australia,” Dakshinamurthy said. Some 300,000 adult Australians are addicted to naphthoylindole.

“I hope the kids won’t get into these crazy things,” Dakshinamurthy said after learning about the availability of 7H in Bowling Green. “I want to cautiously warn them about this.”

When ingested, these chemicals can over time cause the brain, liver, kidneys and lungs to stop working, he said.

In the short term, a one-time 7H smoker told the Daily News that her experience with the drug landed her in The Medical Center’s emergency room after she stopped breathing and lost awareness that she has a body.

“It immediately affects the central nervous system through the brain,” Dakshinamurthy said. “Ultimately, it will affect each part of the body.”

While many other pot alternatives have been banned, this particular chemical composition is not yet a controlled substance.

However, Congress is considering the issue. Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., sponsored House Resolution 1254, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011, in March. If passed, the act would add AM-2201, the chemical name for 7H, and many other chemicals to the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances. The legislation has picked up bipartisan support with 20 co-sponsors.

Mitch Plumlee III, a behavioral health specialist at Park Place Recovery Center, said one of the problems with 7H and other drugs like it is that often people, including medical providers, have no idea what is in the products that are marketed as herbal incense or potpourri. And often, the makers change the chemical composition.

“The chemicals vary from brand to brand, and obviously it’s not regulated,” Plumlee said. “It seems like what’s occurring with 7H is a lot more extreme than what you would see with early marijuana use.”

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