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Synthetic Drugs

What Are Synthetic Drugs?

Drug use can often be deadly, but some substances are much more dangerous than others – especially for teens. While there is no such thing as a safe recreational drug, synthetic drugs can be incredibly confusing in safety and legality. These substances are difficult to track and classify, and manufacturers often utilize legal loopholes to alter existing formulas minimally and evade the law’s iron fist. However, their dubious legality does not speak towards their safety.

These drugs are poorly if ever tested, are often mixed with unknown substances, and come with a long list of dangerous and, at times, lethal side effects. Teens, who are still growing and thus less physically developed than their adult counterparts, are often more susceptible to these dangerous side effects and may be more likely to meet these drugs through dealers who specifically target partygoers and young clients unaware of how dangerous these untested “legal” highs can be.

The Legal Dangers of Synthetic Drugs

While drugs like alcohol and marijuana have their fair share of dangerous effects and health concerns, particularly for underaged teens, they are more heavily regulated in most states than these synthetic drugs. The long-term and short-term effects of these drugs are well understood and studied compared to something as fresh and dangerous as a synthetic amphetamine or cannabinoid.

Synthetic drugs are human-made analogs to existing substances in nature, such as cathinone and cannabidiol, manufactured in laboratories worldwide and shipped into countries with existing or growing markets. To avoid heavy scrutiny, the legal and base ingredients for these drugs are often imported and declared for industrial or scientific use and used to create recreational synthetic medicines in domestic labs.

These drugs are structurally like existing substances heavily regulated, but different enough that these laws may not necessarily apply to them. On a biological level, these substances continue to affect the same receptors as herbal drugs like marijuana and khat – but because of their synthetic nature, the side effects and other psychological impacts can vary wildly from substance to substance, lab to lab, and person to person.

As such, they have until recently been available in gas station convenience shops in the form of aromatic products, potpourri, and other products not explicitly marketed for human consumption yet sold exclusively as a drug among those in-the-know. While regulatory bodies like the DEA continue to work hard to create and enforce legal boundaries on so-called novel psychoactive substances (synthetic drugs), slight modifications in these substances’ production can still be used to evade regulations, at least for a time.

Thankfully, the regulation of entire classifications of drugs (such as synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, amphetamine-like substances, and other designer drugs) has dramatically reduced the sale and use of synthetic drugs the US over the last few years. But that does not mean the danger has been eliminated, and manufacturers are continuing to come up with new formulas and look for new ways to exploit legal loopholes and sell their “legal highs.”

Main Types of Synthetic Drugs

Enough research and ingenuity can lead to developing any number of synthetic drugs or designer drugs, usually explicitly designed to mimic an existing substance or elicit several effects. However, most synthetic drugs can be divided into three popular categories: artificial stimulants (traditionally based on amphetamines), synthetic cathinones, and synthetic cannabinoids.

Synthetic Stimulants (Amphetamine-Like Drugs)

Synthetic stimulants are often designed to affect the same receptors as amphetamines, but with many common side effects past the stimulant effect. These include:

  • Hallucinations and drug-induced psychosis
  • Nightmares
  • Nausea and stomach issues
  • Headaches
  • Brain damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage

Synthetic Cannabinoids

While there have not been any overdoses caused by cannabis, cannabinoids are multiple times more potent than their natural analog – and may cause death. They have grown popular on the dark web. Some teens may underestimate the potency and lethality of synthetic cannabis because they’ve heard that the real stuff isn’t as dangerous as other drugs – but synthetic cannabinoids only share their target receptors and are otherwise very different substances. Other side effects include:

  • Intense nausea
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Intense heartbeat
  • Suicidal ideation

Synthetic Cathinones

Sometimes known as “bath salts,” these designer drugs are analogous to the psychoactive substance found in khat, an Ethiopian flowering plant used locally for its stimulant effects. However, like synthetic cannabis, synthetic cathinones are much more potent than the real thing and subsequently much more dangerous. Common side effects include:

  • Lowered inhibition towards strangers
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Increased agitation (to an extreme degree)
  • Heightened libido
  • Panic attacks

Recognizing Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic drugs will be marketed as legal highs, often in various household products not meant for human consumption (to evade regulations through the FDA). Examples of different household products usually sold as legal highs include:

  • Jewelry cleaners
  • Phone screen cleaners
  • VCR head cleaners
  • Potpourri
  • Scent makers
  • Plant food/fertilizer
  • Bath salts
  • And more

Brand names, on the other hand, are near-infinite in their variations and potential meanings. Common ones include Spice, Bliss, Vanilla Sky, Cloud Nine, and countless different versions thereof. The chances are that if you see a no-brand or unknown cleaning product sold as a whitish or brown crystalline powder, with a name that has little to do with its efficacy as a detergent or stain remover, it is probably best to stay away or do some additional research. These synthetic drugs are usually sold in crystal or powder form to be dissolved, injected, snorted, smoked, or ingested. When sold as potpourri, they may be sprayed onto thin strips of colored paper.

Talking to Your Teen About Synthetic Drugs

The dangers in synthetic drugs lie not only in their completely untested nature and a long list of lethal side effects, but also in the fact that no regulatory bodies are controlling the design, manufacture, and packaging of these drugs, meaning:

  • Some batches will be much stronger than others.
  • Some paper strips will be more deeply saturated than the next.
  • Any given dose (due to these dangerous inconsistencies) could contain a lethal level of the drug.

These drugs are inherently more hazardous than others. Teens are wont to experiment. But these drugs are far too dangerous to experiment with. Be sure your teen knows and understands the moneymaking scheme behind these so-called “legal highs” and their inherent random lethality.

Categories
Addiction Alcohol Guest Blogs Heroin Marijuana Recovery Substance Abuse Synthetic Drugs

Guest Post: The Ins and Outs of Drug Testing

A drug testing program

Laboratory (Photo credit: tk-link)

can be an important part of a company, school or drug rehabilitation center’s policy. Some parents have even taken it upon themselves to initiate drug testing in their own homes in the interest of keeping their children drug free.

And while most drug testing programs use the urine drug testing method, there are other ways of testing for substance abuse. We will look at the three most common drug testing methods and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Instant drug tests and lab drug tests

 

All drug testing falls into one of these two categories.

 

Instant tests, as the name implies, can be done on the spot and give you instant results in just a few simple steps.

 

For laboratory testing, you of course have to go to a laboratory where the tests are performed with sophisticated equipment. Samples can be collected either at the laboratory or collected off site and taken to the lab for testing.

 

Drug testing programs in business or institutional environments will usually include a two step process that includes both instant and laboratory tests. An instant test will be performed initially and if that returns a positive result, a follow up test on the sample will be performed at a laboratory. These lab tests are important because instant test results aren’t admissible in court. If the test result is to be used for a legal matter, such as termination of employment, for example, the sample must be laboratory tested for confirmation purposes.

 

The obvious advantage of instant drug testing is that it gives you instant results. The instant drug testing kits are also inexpensive compared to booking laboratory time for drug testing. With many kits, it’s also possible to test for multiple drugs at the same time. Some of them can even test for over a dozen drugs that include all the common street drugs, plus prescription drugs.

 

As for disadvantages, aside from the fact that the results are not admissible in court, another knock on instant drug tests is that they do give the occasional false positive reading. Even worse, they also give the occasional false negative reading.

 

On the laboratory side, the advantages are that the testing is handled by professionals and the results can be used in court, as they confirm the presence of drugs. The expense, plus the time it takes to get results, which ranges from hours to weeks, are disadvantages to laboratory testing.

 

By combining instant drug testing and laboratory testing, costs can be kept down by primarily using the instant tests and only sending the samples that give a positive result away for laboratory confirmation.

 

Different Types of drug testing

 

Although you may occasionally see blood and sweat referenced in terms of drug testing, and both those bodily fluids can be used, the three most common ways of drug testing are by using samples of urine, saliva or hair.

 

It is possible to use an instant testing kit when using urine or saliva to drug test. With these kits, you can collect a sample anywhere (you’ll need a private place for urine, obviously) and test the substances right on the spot. Or, you can collect the samples and have them sent away to a laboratory for testing.

 

Hair testing cannot be done instantly. Hair samples can be collected any place, but the actual testing will have to be done at a laboratory.

 

Urine

 

As far as the most common way to drug test, urine reigns supreme. It’s used in the majority of employment testing, pre-employment screening, military and sports drug testing.

 

Depending on the type of drug and other factors like a person’s body composition, urine tests can detect drugs in a person’s system from a few hours after they’ve ingested them until about a week afterward, maybe a bit longer.

 

The instant urine drug tests require a person to give a sample of a certain size and then seeing how that urine reacts with specific chemicals meant to detect drug metabolites.

 

Tests come in different formats like testing strips, where you dip the strip into the urine, or testing cassettes where you have to transfer some of the urine onto the cassette. A popular instant urine test for obvious reasons is the all-on-one cups where you get the sample donor to fill a cup and you put a lid on the cup and push a button to enact the test, never needing to actually interact with the liquid.

 

Laboratory urine tests will involve doing an instant drug test (known as immunoassay tests) and if the results are positive, running a more sophisticated (and expensive) test that usually involve gas chromatography–mass spectrometry or a similar type of test.

 

Obviously the advantages are that this type of testing can be done quickly and relatively inexpensively, plus, because it’s the most common type of drug testing, most people are familiar with it already.

 

The disadvantages of urine testing are that the sample collection can’t quite be done anywhere. The collection process is also a bit invasive. In some organizations like the military, sample collection must be watched.

 

And urine tests can be cheated. Some common forms of cheating include:

 

  • swapping in someone else’s clean urine,
  • drinking excessive amounts of water or other liquids to dilute the sample, and
  • adding a foreign substance (salt, vinegar, bleach etc.) to the sample.

 

Fortunately, these types of cheating can be easily thwarted. Temperature strips can detect when urine isn’t body temperature, which a fresh sample would be. Also, observation of the sample collection prevents swapping. Many tests can detect watered down samples and properly trained testing technicians will be able to spot a diluted sample, not to mention that most drugs aren’t water soluble so this won’t help people cheat in a lot of cases anyway. Many modern instant tests are also equipped to detect adulterated samples, as well as the aforementioned properly trained drug testing technicians. Laboratories will have safeguards in place to detect cheating.

 

Saliva

 

Often referred to as oral fluid tests, they involve taking a swab of fluid from the mouth of the sample donor. The results are available instantly and these tests can detect drug use from about an hour after usage to a few days after usage depending on the type of drug.

 

The relatively short period of detection is one of their disadvantages.

 

However, a clear advantage is that the collection process for saliva testing can be done anywhere and can be observed without privacy concerns.

 

As far as cheating, it has been noted that gum and cigarettes can interfere with the results of these tests, so precautions have to be taken to ensure no gum is chewed or cigarettes smoked immediately prior to the test.

 

Hair

 

Hair testing involves cutting several dozen strands of hair from a person’s head or body and sending them to a laboratory for testing (the sample collection can also be done in some labs). Short hair is perfectly fine to use and, as mentioned, body hair can also be used. And while cutting off a person’s hair is obviously somewhat invasive, the hair is cut from the back of the head from a few different spots so as to not be obvious.

 

In the lab, the hair will be liquified and then split into its various components to check for drug metabolites. A huge advantage for hair testing is that it can check for drug use as far back as three months prior to the date of the test. And, not only can it detect the type of drug used, but also how frequently it was used.

 

Another huge advantage is that it is impossible to cheat. The internet is full of “advice” for people on how to cheat a hair drug test, but no shampoo, dye or bleach can change the molecular makeup of the hair, which is what the tests look at.

 

However, aside from the aforementioned invasiveness, hair testing has other disadvantages. It’s more expensive than either urine or saliva testing, there is no instant option and drug metabolites won’t show up in hair until about a week after usage. So, for example, if a person used cocaine on Tuesday and a hair sample was taken from them the following Thursday, the cocaine usage from two days beforehand would not be detected.

 

Whether used in a professional environment or in the home, drug testing can help keep employees, students, children, athletes and others free from the harmful effects of drugs. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and which one is best for any given situation will depend on cost and other factors.

 

About Our Guest Blogger: Lena Butler

Lena Butler is a health blogger and customer service representative for TestCountry, a San Diego based point of service diagnostic test service provider that offers a wide range of laboratory and instant drug and general health testing kits. You can follow Test Country on Twitter and on Facebook. Follow Lena on Twitter as well!

Categories
Addiction Prevention Substance Abuse Synthetic Drugs

Taking a Look at Krokodil–The Flesh-Eating Street Drug

We’ve done several blogs on the street drugs Molly, K2 and Spice, and now it’s time to take a look at Krokodil. Krokodil is a homemade heroin substitute birthed in a rural part of Russia. Its primary ingredient is desomorphine – a morphine derivative once used in Switzerland in the 30s under the brand name Permonid because of its effectiveness and reputation for being short-acting with a quick onset–it’s around 8-10 times more potent than morphine. The street use is far different and much more sinister.

 

Krokodil is manufactured from what is purported to be a simple synthesis of codeine combined with ingredients such as paint thinner, iodine, and red phosphorus (among other things).  Toxic city! And it’s aptly named Krokodil because its use can turn your skin black, green and/or scaly—like a crocodile. David DiSalvo at Forbes wrote that it is “Essentially a corrosive acid with opiate effects, it (sic) destroys body tissue the way battery acid eats through plastic, opening large sores that can go all the way to the bone.”  Russia is the largest consumer of heroin in the world, and Krokodil is its street-ready replacement since  heroin has become harder and harder to obtain. The extreme poverty in rural Russia and desperation for escape is fueling a dangerous addiction.

 

So far, krokodil isn’t a real threat to the US, where heroin and other street drugs are easy to come by. However, when two patients in Ohio claimed to be using the drug, and were showing signs they were suffering from the consequences of krokodil use, Dany Thekkemuriyil and Unnikrishnan Pillai, both physicians at SSM St. Mary’s Health Center in Richmond Heights, Mo, reported their findings to the American Journal of Medicine. Right now, the main issue with this particular synthetic drug relies on its prevalence in other countries.  Purportedly, the cases in the US that were initially believed to be krokodil have not been confirmed and none tested positively for desomorphane. What we are especially seeing is the International effects of a dangerous street drug borne out of poverty and hosted by severe addiction and despair. It is cause for concern from a global standpoint. This is also a great reminder to remain knowledgeable about what drugs are out there, not to encourage panic, but to arm ourselves with clearer understanding and awareness. The truth is, we need to be more aware of drug use, carry out proper disposal of medications after they are no longer needed, and begin using healthier resources to manage our stress and discomfort. There’s no need to start playing scientist to get away from our feelings.

 

Categories
Addiction Synthetic Drugs

Molly: A Dangerous, Synthetic Ride

Tablets sold as MDMA may contain other chemicals (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Molly is the slang term for the man-made drug MDMA (ecstasy). It’s a well-known synthetic, psychoactive drug often used at all-night parties or raves and sold as the “pure form of MDMA,” something medical professionals and the DEA are finding far from the truth. What is being sold is an unpredictable variation of MDMA with various synthetic drugs being used as filler. Molly provides a fast, relatively long acting (3-6 hours) high with the following effects:

 

  • Increased energy
  • Euphoria,
  • Emotional warmth and empathy to others
  • Distortions in sensory or time perception

 

The physical effects of Molly are similar to other stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines and include:

 

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Muscle tension
  • Clenching of jaw
  • Nausea
  • Feeling faint
  • Chills and/or sweating

The recent surge of young adults overdosing on Molly overdoses is alarming. Medical professionals have noted shifts in their pathology findings in these patients, illustrating the fact that underground chemists are manipulating the molecular compounds of Molly in the same way they are manipulating other synthetic drugs like K2, Spice, and bath salts. According to Rudy Payne, DEA spokesman, “DEA seizures of pure MDMA or ecstasy have dropped indicating that dealers are creating the capsules from other drugs and marketing them as Molly.” This statistic makes a profound statement: “In 2008, the DEA seized 5,377 pounds of Ecstasy. Last year, the DEA seized 954 pounds.”

 

The drug dealers target teens and young adults, promoting a cheap, safe high. What they are selling is the antithesis of safe. Teens and young adults are essentially guinea pigs, experimenting with their brains and cognitive development in the name of fun. On the street, in social circles, and even in some pop songs, Molly is being falsely lauded as harmless.

 

  • Overdose symptoms include:
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Overheating
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shivering
  • Involuntary twitching

 

To put things into perspective, these four Molly related deaths occurred this summer:

 

  • Two college students died at the Electric Zoo festival in New York, prompting a shutdown.
  • A University of Virginia student died at a rave in Washington, D.C.
  • A 19-year-old died in a club in Boston, and 3 others overdosed.

 

There are long-term effects from using these drugs. It negatively affects one’s brain chemistry, and can damage the brain for several years following heavy use. Researchers have found that MDMA affect the neurons that use serotonin to communicate with other neurons. Seratonin controls our mood, sleep, sensitivity to pain, and aggression. Long-term use of MDMA also affects memory loss.  Molly isn’t something to play with. These long-term effects aren’t worth 6 hours of distorted reality.

 

Articles used as reference:

Drug ‘Molly’ is taking a party toll in the United States

NIDA for Teens

Overdoses Attributed to Club Drug “Molly” Increase

Partnership at Drugfree.org

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH)

 

Categories
Addiction Prevention Synthetic Drugs

In the News: Synthetic Marijuana aka Crazy Clown

Crazy Clown (Photo credit: yewenyi)

Synthetic Marijuana is back in the news, this time under the names “Crazy Clown” or “Herbal Madness Incense.” Eight teens and young adults were sent to the hospital in Georgia this weekend because of the effects of this drug. The CDC is investigating this latest designer drug incarnation and has issued a warning. The use of synthetic marijuana is incredibly dangerous and presents a growing public health concern. According to the CDC:

Sixteen cases of synthetic cannabinoid-related acute kidney injury occurred in six states in 2012. Synthetic cannabinoids, which are sold in smoke shops and convenience stores under names like ‘synthetic marijuana,’ ‘Spice,’ ‘K2,’ or ‘herbal incense,’ are designer drugs dissolved in solvent, applied to plant material, and smoked. These psychoactive drugs can have a significant effect on mood or behavior, but also carry the risk of unpredictable toxicity. The growing use of synthetic cannabinoid products is an emerging public health concern. The sixteen cases reported in this study developed kidney damage after smoking synthetic cannabinoid products. In seven of the cases, analyses of the products or blood or urine samples found a unique cannabinoid called XLR-11. These products are often sold as incense and labeled “Not for Human Consumption.” Despite the labeling, individuals use the products as an alternative to marijuana use.  There is a risk that some cannabinoid compounds may be toxic and the health effects may not be easily predictable because of what is still unknown about the products. However, it is important that clinicians, scientists, public health officials, and law enforcement are alerted about the emerging adverse health effects from synthetic drug use.”

Symptoms from the use of this latest version of synthetic marijuana include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dry Mouth
  • Weakness
  • Cardiac Problems
  • Paralysis

We’ve written about Spice, K2, Cloud Nine, bath salts, and all other incarnations of these designer drugs before. They are enticing, especially to teens and young adults looking for a cheap, quick high.  Because these drugs are easily obtained at liquor stores and convenience marts, their often innocuous packaging makes them seem harmless or just “fun.”

 

For now, the active ingredient is unknown, but we know that it is highly dangerous. One of the most troublesome issues regarding synthetic marijuana is the ever-changing ingredients: As soon as one ingredient is banned, it morphs into something new, creating a maelstrom of issues for law enforcement, medical professionals, and the CDC. Usually new synthetic marijuana is discovered because of an increase in ER visits. This stuff is lethal. What looks like a cheap, easy high is more often a fast-track ride to the hospital. It’s not worth it.

 

Categories
Addiction Adolescence Parenting Synthetic Drugs

Smiles: The Dark Side of a Joyful Symbol

Smiles, yet another designer drug to hit the US seems to be just as deadly as the other synthetic drugs we are more familiar with. According to the DEA, this drug is “a synthetic drug abused for its hallucinogenic effects,” and has “been encountered in a number of states by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.”  Still, the findings regarding this substance are so preliminary, all we really have to refer to are user stories on YouTube, and that’s not an ideal source. The popularity of drugs like Smiles, K2, Spice, and Bath Salts is partly due to the ease of their availability and their inexpensive price tag. They are easily purchased online, in liquor stores, and particularly in states that haven’t elicited new, prohibitive laws regarding these synthetic drugs. What’s troublesome is these drugs are typically created and recreated faster than the FDA can process requests to ban them. Often times, it’s a sudden increase in ER visits by patients suffering similarly which alerts professionals of a new drug is on the scene.

What is Smiles? 

We don’t know much, but we do know that 2C-1 aka Smiles is an amphetamine/hallucinogen whose effects have been compared to a combination of LSD and MDMA. Some even say it’s similar to PCP.  2C-1 (Smiles) was initially popular in Europe, emerging onto their party scene in 2003. Smiles is classified as aphenethylamines—essentially amphetamines but with an additional chemical compound added which change its effects. Instead of the increased heart rate and feeling of speediness so commonly associated with amphetamine use, the effect of 2c-1 is more euphoric and psychedelic, again more in line with that found in psychedelics.  Like most of these synthetic drugs,  they are commonly manufactured in illegal labs, which make it terribly difficult to regulate.

What population is using Smiles?

The same population that uses this elicit drug is the same one that uses drugs like Ecstasy, Spice, Bath Salts, K2, and other club drugs: high-school and college students and other young adults that frequent party and club settings. Like the others, Smiles is easy to get, cheap, and not always easy to detect in drug tests. Because the evolution of these synthetic drugs is so fast, parents, teachers, mental health and law enforcement professionals may be caught off guard. Awareness is going to be your best defense.

So, what can you do?

  • Be aware of your young adults’ friends and sudden changes in those social circles.
  • Do you really know where your kids go when they “hang out”? Sudden secrecy (more than the usual we expect from adolescents) should raise a red flag. Instead of approaching your concern with anger, show concern with an open heart. Try and remember how YOU felt as a teen.
  • Look into your teens’ eyes: Are the pupils dilated (huge)?  Are they pinpoints?
  • Watch for sudden changes in grades or attendance.
  • Gather information from viable, legitimate sources (NIDA, DEA)
  • Get some support for yourself: therapy, support groups, et cetera.
  • Practice self-care. It’s harder to care for others when you are not taken care of.

These drugs are serious. They are unknown in many ways, and that fact alone makes them deadly. Stay tuned; I’m sure there will be more information to follow. In the meantime, be as transparent as you can be with your kids. Chances are, if they feel emotionally safe enough to confide in you and talk to you in general, they are less likely to hide the important things and travel along a path of self-destruction.

Categories
Addiction Prevention Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic Drugs: Elusive and Troubling

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thing’s for sure: teens are curious. And we’d be remiss in forgetting their quintessential stubbornness and hints of recklessness, which, of course, feeds their curiosity. Now with the surge of synthetic drugs on the market, coupled with the fact that most parents don’t know much about them, the curiosity factor is heightened. Sure, parents can wax poetic about the drugs of their time: marijuana, methamphetamines, psychedelics, cocaine, and pills. But when it comes to synthetic drugs like K2 or Spice or the mythos of Bath Salts, parents and teachers alike are as baffled as the authorities.

We’ve been writing about synthetic drugs over the past two years, understanding the heat has been on to place bans on these drugs across the country. The difficulty has been the FDA is up against fluctuating drug formulas and irregular chemical components in the drugs themselves, making regulation difficult and elusive. Finally, on July 9, 2012, President Obama signed legislation banning synthetic drugs. The law bans any known chemicals used to make K2, Spice, and bath salts. The trick will be for the FDA to stay one or two steps ahead of the synthetic chemists, because as one formula is banned, a new one is cooking in someone’s garage.

However, it’s not just the FDA that to needs to stay a step ahead of synthetic drugs; it’s parents as well. Synthetic drugs are easily concealed and available everywhere from online sources to the local convenient store. The reality is, some of these chemicals are so new, they’re off the radar entirely and which increases user vulnerability. What may seem like a fun party idea to an adolescent,  synthetic drug use can easily ricochet into a psychotic episode and a visit to the ER. This is serious. Recently, the National Institute on Drug Abuse released information which indicated one in nine high-school kids had used synthetic drugs.  Talk to your kids, and stay informed–not only regarding their lives, but the social minefields they have to navigate on a regular basis.

Categories
Addiction Marijuana Smoking Synthetic Drugs

Marijuana and its Synthetic Counterparts: A Look at a New Study

Part one of a three-part blog, wherein I will begin to address the use of marijuana and synthetic marijuana. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3, where I will address the increase in prescription drug and hookah use.

Recent studies elicited by Monitoring the Future (MTF) show a decrease in alcohol consumption and tobacco use; at the same time, they found an increase in the use of alternate tobacco products (hookah, small cigars, smokeless tobacco), marijuana, and prescription drugs.

One explanation for the increase in marijuana consumption is a lower perceived risk: “In recent years, fewer teens report seeing much danger associated with its use, even with regular use.” The call to legalize marijuana has also contributed to this new perception by extinguishing some of the associated stigma. As a result, we are seeing a denial of risk and a decline in disapproval amongst our adolescent counterparts. There seems to be a viable change in societal norms occurring at the adolescent level. No longer is marijuana use relegated to the “losers,” but rather it is now part and parcel to one’s normative social interactions with anyone, regardless of socio-economic status. With the advent of synthetic marijuana, the perception of danger has been further clouded by the sheer fact that these synthetic substances can be purchased almost anywhere. The surge in the use of synthetic marijuana products like Spice and K2 has created a maelstrom of reported symptoms which include:

  • paranoia;
  • loss of consciousness;
  • hallucinations, and;
  • psychotic episodes.

We currently see more and more kids coming into treatment with a history of Spice and K2 use. And Gil Kerlikoeske, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) points out that, “Poison control center data across America has shown a substantial rise in the number of calls from victims suffering serious consequences from these synthetic drugs.” Currently, the House has voted on a ban of synthetic drugs like Spice, K2, bath salts, et cetera, asking that it be added to the “highly restrictive Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act.” So far, approximately 40 states have passed laws which criminalize Spice and other synthetic substances.

Whether banned or not, there needs to be open dialogue about Spice and K2 and its various counterparts. These synthetics are popping up faster than the DEA can regulate them, proving that the drug environment is changing before our eyes. As such, it’s imperative we stay fluent in the language of our teens, and the social environments in which they operate. We all know the “thrill of the high” is often associated with the verboten nature of its purchase and consumption. Open dialogue removes the mystery, and frankly, it’s not enough to rely upon the justice system to provide the answers.

Categories
Addiction Synthetic Drugs

Spice: Your Synthetic Nightmare

Spice, K2, Cloud Nine, Potpourri: call it what you will, it’s all the same: a legal, synthetic, psychotropic drug lurking at the counters of your local liquor store.  Some use these drugs once and walk away, disillusioned by the multitude of negative effects. The addiction-prone continue, disregarding the negative nuances, anxious to get high.  Addiction is funny that way: the bad never seems bad enough to stop.

Recently, 20/20 did an exposé on bath salts, K2, and Spice, exposing the dangers and widespread concern amidst parents and law enforcement officials. Our medical director, Dr. David Lewis, addressed some of the risks related to these substances, telling 20/20: “If you take a developing brain and you put a tremendously psychoactive substance in the middle of that, that developing brain, what you really have is a chemistry experiment.” Dr. Lewis is all too familiar with the negative consequences manifesting in kids who have been using these drugs, and like parents, he also worries about the ease with which one can purchase K2 and Spice. Lewis says, “These people sell the drugs to our kids, no matter what the consequences are.” When 20/20 sent in hidden cameras with underage kids, the truth of this was caught on tape. The retailers are in it for the buck. Show them the money, and they’ll sell you the drugs, regardless of the 18-and-over age restriction.

Unfortunately, this rampant, devil-may-care attitude is substantiated by Dan Francis, the Executive Director of The Retail Compliance Association, who says, “a ban is dangerous” because it “sends it underground.” He even questions the government, saying,” What is wrong with euphoria and what gave them the right to regulate it?” Nothing is wrong with euphoria if it’s obtained through non-harming activities like completing a marathon, or a 2-hour Ashtanga yoga class. But that’s not what’s happening here—instead shops are selling a chemical recipe for disaster. We essentially have kids purchasing substances that have the capability of eliciting a desire to self-harm or increase the potentiality of suicidal ideation. It would be irresponsible if we ignored it.

Related articles:

Stores Fight Proposed Federal Ban on Spice, ‘Legal Marijuana’ (abcnews.go.com)

Synthetic pot can cause psychosis that can last for months, research shows (thenewstribune.com)

Teens Able to Purchase ‘Legal Pot,’ Despite Potentially Deadly Side Effects (abcnews.go.com)

Categories
Addiction Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic Doesn’t Mean Safe

Sometimes marketed as incense or an herbal smoking blend, synthetic marijuana is readily available for teens via the internet and some drug paraphernalia shops.  Rather than banning the products themselves (Spice, K2, Blaze, and Red X Dawn), the FDA is seeking to ban the 5 chemicals used to create the herbal blends. The FDA wants to place the chemicals in the same category as heroin and cocaine, due to increased reports of  seizures, dependency of poison centers, hallucinations, hospitals, and law enforcement as a result of its use.

Synthetic or not, it’s still a drug, and it still has the potential to contribute to one’s addiction issues. Sprayed with psychotropic chemicals, this herbal and spice mixture is touted as providing users with an elevated, meditative state, similar to the effect found with marijuana use. However, instead of the alleged mellow effects sought by its users, the statistics show high reports of heightened blood pressure, high levels of anxiety, seizures, nausea, severe agitation, and hallucinations.  While more testing is needed, findings suggest this drug is effecting not only the cardiovascular system, but also the central nervous system of its users. In plain speak: it’s dangerous.

Are you worried your kid might be using? If so, you might want to look for dried herbs in unlikely places…their room, for instance, or their backpacks. What does a teen really want with something that looks like oregano, right? You can also look for some of these physical signs:

  • Agitation
  • Pale appearance
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion.

It’s good the FDA is taking a stance on this–between the ease of availability and the implication of harmlessness, we place our kids and ourselves at heightened risk for the long-term, negative effects of yet another drug.