Rock Hill leaders are considering a ban on synthetic marijuana, a mix of herbs and spices coated with a chemical to become a product marketed as "fake weed."
Teens and young adults use the product as a legal way to get high - and find it cheap at convenience stores and online, local drug-abuse prevention advocates warn.
Health risks involve more than a bad hangover. Rapid heart rate, dangerously high blood pressure and hallucinations are among the side effects, according to federal drug officials.
The City Council will debate outlawing the fake marijuana when it meets at 6 p.m. Monday.
Never miss a local story.
"We need to move on this," said Councilwoman Susie B. Hinton, a former school principal and chief advocate for the measure.
"I discovered this was something that was really of concern. We have enough evidence."
Under names such as "K2" and "Spice," the mix is often sold in small plastic bags of dried leaves and marketed as incense that can be smoked.
K2 is sold at convenience stores for as little as $6.99 a pack.
"Most adults have never heard of it," said Jane Alleva, director of the York County All On Board Coalition, an initiative that aims to keep children and teens safe and sober.
"This is a legitimate risk for our youth and a public health problem."
Rock Hill would be the first S.C. city to impose a ban, the coalition says. Violators - including customers and stores - would face fines of $500 for misdemeanor offenses.
South Carolina could soon join at least 15 other states in imposing a statewide ban. State Sen. Wes Hayes of Rock Hill and state Rep. Tommy Pope of York say they are working on legislation.
"It's a loophole lawmakers need to fix," said Marvin Brown, commander of the York County drug unit. "What sense does it make that teenagers can buy K2 but can't buy a cigarette?"
Alleva said she met with several teens from across the county to see what they knew about synthetic marijuana.
The high often leads to headaches and nausea, Alleva was told, but teens like the feeling of danger.
"It's being marketed at them through the Internet, through Facebook, through their world, in a sense," Alleva said. "It can be very much a defiant kind of thing to say, 'Look at me, I'm smoking marijuana.'"
In another Carolinas community, a young adult said he uses the product for health reasons.
Blake Tippett, 26, said he smokes synthetic marijuana because it helps relieve the pain from back injuries that ruptured one disc and herniated another.
"I'm in the category of those people who smoke because it has helped to make me a healthy, 200-pound person able to walk around without wearing a back brace," the N.C. college student told The (Raleigh) News & Observer.
Mark Tucci, a Hilton Head resident and owner of the franchise Custom Blends Tobacco, said he's already heard from suppliers who promised new products with different blends that comply with new regulations.
The synthetic drug was created in the early 1990s, but started showing up in tobacco and convenience stores in the U.S. in the past year.
Hinton learned about the dangers from a recent workshop with law enforcement. The former principal said adults are sometimes slow to discover new trends among teens.
"I don't know if we keep up with all the things that are attractive to our young people as much as we should," she said. "I'm definitely supportive, because I think it's another signal as to what we need to be about."
The Fort Mill Times and the Associated Press contributed to this story.