NEWARK, NJ - We’ve all heard the horror stories … a young man running through his neighborhood naked while displaying bizarre and uncontrollable behavior; a group of people walking a neighborhood street in a zombielike state (confused and delirious); dozens hospitalized after staggering on the street, foaming at the mouth; a woman in coma after violent hallucinations and a seizure.
What do all these stories have in common? They all involve the use of synthetic drugs, or “designer drugs”. These drugs are chemically made in underground labs promoted as a safe and legal high and cause severe and even fatal health effects to users. Backdoor chemists design synthetics to mimic the effects of other illicit drugs for the sole purpose of abuse. They contain highly addictive mind-altering chemicals. Because the contents are not regulated, the effects are unpredictable and the potency is often much greater than the actual drugs they are designed to imitate.
Synthetic cannabinoids (SCs) were created to mimic the effects of marijuana. In reality, the effects are quite different than those of herbal marijuana. Often referred to as fake pot/weed, it’s a mixture of dry plant material sprayed with a variety of manmade chemicals. It does not produce a natural high nor is it safe to use. Users say the smokable form of the drug looks like potpourri. The liquid form may be used in e-cigarettes, vaporizers, etc. There are hundreds of street names for SCs, but the most common are K2 and Spice.
Synthetic cathinones (sometimes called Bath Salts) are stimulants created to “mimic those of methamphetamine, cocaine, and ecstasy, or a combination thereof.” They are known to cause hallucinations similar to LSD, but pack a powerful punch of overstimulation, causing the user to hallucinate with uncontrollable aggression. Most commonly sold as a powder and consumed by snorting, swallowing, smoking, vaping or injecting. Make no mistake - none of these products has anything at all to do with spas, baths or tubs. In fact, Bath Salts have quite the opposite effect of relaxation; “body temperatures, heart rates, and blood pressures soar to critical and immediately dangerous levels.”1 As with synthetic marijuana, there are hundreds of street names for Bath Salts, but some common names include Vanilla Sky and Cloud Nine.
Why have these drugs become so popular with teens/young adults in recent years? Dealers falsely promote these products as a safe alternative to illegal street drugs. Synthetics are widely available, found on the Internet and in retail stores, and highly addictive. A recent study in the Journal of Medical Toxicology concluded that the majority of patients were young adult males who used SCs simply to get high.
“These products follow no rules. There’s no way to know what you are getting in that package each time you use,” says Dr. Diane Calello, Medical Director of the NJ Poison Center, Rutgers NJ Medical School and author of the study.
Knowing the long-term effects of these drugs will be difficult given that the chemicals and the potency constantly change. What we do know is that the use of these drugs can be life-threatening and can include
- high blood pressure
- kidney/liver damage
- severe agitation
- intense hallucinations and delusions
If you believe someone has used a synthetic drug or has overdosed, call poison control right away at 1-800-222-1222 unless the person is unconscious, not breathing, seizing/convulsing, difficult to arouse/wake up, etc. then call 9-1-1.
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