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Synthetic Drugs: A Growing Threat

Synthetic drugs such as bath salts or synthetic marijuana (usually known as spice or K2) are extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, these manmade drugs are used primarily by people age 25 and under, who tend to underestimate the risks.

In fact, the drugs are anything but safe and can result in hallucinations, seizures, confusion, violent behavior, agitation, suicidal thoughts, chest pain, increased heart rate, spastic body movements, anxiety attacks, delusions, paranoia and sometimes severe injury or death. Emergency room visits are becoming more common as the use of the drug picks up speed.

Synthetic drugs are complex, but if you are concerned that somebody you care about may be using the drugs, it may help to have a basic understanding of the drugs and how they work:

  • Bath salts are not the sweet-smelling, bubbly stuff in your bathroom. This drug consists of chemical powders or crystals that are swallowed or smoked. Bath salts are cheap and readily available from head shops, smoke shops, convenience stores and gas stations. The drugs are readily available from hundreds of thousands of internet websites.
  • Synthetic marijuana consists of dried plant material sprayed with a variety of chemicals. The drug looks like marijuana and is used much like marijuana, but the reaction is more akin to cocaine or LSD. Like bath salts, synthetic marijuana is readily available. It is often sold as “plant food” or herbal incense.
  • Synthetic marijuana is many times more powerful than regular marijuana. Manufacturers of synthetic marijuana tout the drug as a safer alternative to methamphetamine, but in reality, the chemicals are related to amphetamines.
  • Synthetic drugs affect the brain’s chemical makeup, affecting levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.
  • Synthetic drugs take effect within 30 minutes. However, the drugs usually last seven or more hours, and in some cases, the effects can linger as long as 24 to 48 hours.
  • Synthetic drugs are manufactured in illegal labs — often small neighborhood labs — using chemicals manufactured in China. The drugs are completely uncontrolled and the packages carry no standard dosing and no information about the contents. Packages are often labeled “Not for human consumption,” which enables manufacturers to skirt FDA regulatory requirements.
  • State and federal authorities are attempting to regulate the drugs, but the law moves too slowly to stay ahead of manufacturers, who can alter the chemical makeup of the substances by simply changing a single molecule. However, Congress and several steps have taken steps to control certain chemicals commonly used in synthetic drugs.
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