Can You Smoke Incense? Can Incense Get You High? (Explained)


The most basic incense recipes incorporate plant matter, like seeds, flower petals, resin, and herbs. Due to this, people have asked if you can smoke incense. 

Incense is not made for human consumption or ingestion and incense smoke should not be directly inhaled. With that said, there is an incense that’s sold and smoked as a legal alternative to marijuana. It’s laced with synthetic chemicals that mimic euphoria experienced after smoking marijuana. This synthetic material may smell nice, but it can cause illness and even death. 

Awareness of this form of incense is essential because it is frequently sold alongside traditional incense products. Continue reading to understand the impact of this faux incense. 

Can You Smoke Incense

What Is Herbal Incense and Can You Smoke it?

It turns out that not every substance that’s marketed as incense is harmless. Research has shown that constant exposure to large amounts of incense smoke can potentially agitate or exacerbate pulmonary conditions, and can increase risk of development of respiratory tract cancers with long-term use.

But there isn’t a strong direct link between exposure to incense smoke and the development of cancer or any other serious illness. 

What’s striking is that there is a form of incense that can cause immediate harm, long-term illness, or even death. 

What’s it Called?

Made of flowers and herbs, burning this incense in a pipe smells the same as any incense stick or cone, but it’s significantly different because a psychoactive chemical component has been added.

These botanical blends are sold under many different names:

  • Afghan incense
  • Bombay Blue
  • Cloud 9
  • Fake weed
  • Genie
  • Joker
  • K2 (as in, the second highest mountain in the world)
  • Mojo
  • Releaf
  • Scooby Snax
  • Spice
  • Spice gold
  • Yucatan fire
  • Zohai

K2 is a really common reference, but there are even more trade names. What this drug is called varies by country, state, and region.

What’s most dangerous is that it’s marketed as herbal incense or potpourri, making them easily accessible. Some businesses enforce an age limit – only allowing those 18 years and older to purchase this “herbal incense,” but this isn’t always the case. Younger teens and adolescents have been known to gain access to this legal substance.

But even those who are aware of its danger downplay the potential harm that can be caused. 

Deceptive Packaging

A store owner in Lawrence, Kansas enforced the age restriction but labeled these drugs as “sacred herbs” and “incense blends” as if they were benign. This store was called “The Sacred Journey.”

According to the local news agency, this store owner described K2 as “the most impressive blend of rare botanicals, extracts and herbs” designed to “draw you in and lift you up.”   

Not taken seriously enough, after multiple federal raids investigating their sale of the substance, the store is now permanently closed.

Even though store owners and users are under the full understanding that K2 is intended to be smoked, outer packaging reads, “not for human consumption.” Labels also indicate that its contents are natural ingredients while excluding the fact that psychoactive chemicals have also been added to the herbs.

Government agencies are trying to reduce access to this drug until it’s made illegal, which would permit them to make arrests, but it’s been a long road. Even with slow progress, though, sites like K2Incense.org – which used to be a popular resource for those purchasing this substance – are no longer active. 

Side Effects to Smoking K2

What’s even more disturbing about smoking K2, or Spice, is that there is little known about how it’s manufactured and who is making the chemical formulas. Manufacturing and distribution is unregulated and the chemicals can vary from batch to batch in terms of intensity and overall makeup.

This might be why users have so many different experiences with the drug. Beyond relaxation and euphoria, some users experience negative reactions, including:

  • Accidental overdose
  • Hallucinations
  • Poisonings
  • Severe bleeding
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • Severe anxiety
  • Violent behavior
  • Kidney damage

Seizures, organ failure, and even death can result from K2 that’s laced with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. 

Available in powder or dried herb form, K2 can be smoked in a pipe, a water pipe, or rolled in cigarette paper like marijuana. It can also be dissolved in a solution, and then vaped.

Can Incense Get You High? 

Burning traditional incense can create different effects on the body. 

Lavender or rose incense can help you relax and fall asleep. Citrus or green tea incense can invigorate you. True frankincense and myrrh incense can help combat bacterial and fungal infections. 

But traditional incense cannot get you high because it doesn’t contain any psychoactive substances like those found in marijuana or K2.

There are three primary synthetic chemicals in K2 that mimic the euphoric high produced by marijuana.

  • JWH-018
  • HU-210
  • JWH-073

This article states that, “The U.S. Department of Justice said in July that the synthetic drug HU-210, which is found in “Spice” products, was found to be 66 to 88 times more active than THC when administered to rats and pigeons. It is considered a controlled substance in the United States. However, JWH-018, which is a chemical found in K2, isn’t a controlled substance.”

JWH – named for Clemson University chemist John W. Huffman, these compounds were never intended to be used as a recreational drug. Huffman stated that isolating this compound was merely an academic exercise that is now known for its misappropriated use. 

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and this is the component of marijuana that’s considered illegal and it’s what’s tested in the field or in work environments. Since THC doesn’t exist in K2 formulas, K2 is smoked more freely.

K2’s specific combination of compounds is considered a controlled substance but can only be detected through chemical analysis of the kind that is not carried out with the typical drug test given by law enforcement.

Another dilemma that exists when it comes to creating and enforcing a law that would prohibit the use and distribution of this “fake marijuana” is that the formula is constantly changing. 

Chemical testing of several brands of herbal incense have shown to contain synthetic cannabinoid compounds or chemicals that mimic them, notably HU-210 and JWH-018, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency said in March. In addition, the DEA said there are at least half a dozen other compounds with similar makeups being used to adulterate the plant materials tested.”

They can’t create laws against unpredictable chemical formulations. Which is why although I use the phrase, “this drug” in singular form, there isn’t one specific drug formula for K2/Spice.

K2 is sold in gas stations, novelty stores, convenience stores, drug paraphernalia shops, and online. Not only can K2 get you high, it’s a more addictive and intense high than with marijuana. 

Even though it’s twice as expensive as marijuana, users are willing to pay the higher amount due to the euphoric high, the fact that they can’t be arrested for smoking it, and because they can pass a drug test after having smoked it.

Kansas was the first state to impose a law against the use of this drug back in 2010. Since then, the number of states that have outlawed this drug steadily climbs. Currently there are a total of eight:

  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Missouri
  • Tennessee

And many more states have pending legislation against the distribution and purchase of this “herbal incense.” City ordinances also exist in some places that haven’t passed law at the state level. 

European countries are also monitoring the use, manufacturing, and distribution of this “legal high” product. They purchase and test the product to learn more about their chemical makeup and track how the formulas change over time.

In some cases, their law enforcement agencies have seized small quantities of K2 that are sold online by intercepting deliveries.

In Closing

You can both smoke and get high from incense that’s sold as a synthetic marijuana. Two of the more common street names for it is K2 and Spice. Unlike marijuana, K2 is not a natural herb. It’s plant matter that’s been coated with harmful psychoactive chemicals.

Although it smells as lovely as the traditional incense that you might burn in your home, K2 effects are more harmful than good.

Instead of smoking this deceptive incense, learn more about the benefits of burning natural incense.

Grace Young

I love candles! I have personally tried over 100 brands of candles. The total burn time of these candles is over 5000 hours. I also talk about essential oil diffusers and reed diffusers. Essential oil diffusers and diffusers are also an important part of the scent in my home.

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