Local Issue: Synthetic Drug Abuse Spice/K2/Bath Salts

According to local addiction professionals and teens, synthetic drugs like Spice/K2 (synthetic marijuana) and bath salts are still readily available in smoke shops, head shops, grocery stores and online, even though federal laws ban the ingredients used to make them. Spice has been around a bit longer than baths salts – we became aware of this a couple of years ago when 3 local high school students ended up at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in serious condition with respiratory and cardiac problems. That knowledge expanded last year when local addiction counselors reported “these synthetic drugs are commonly abused by adolescent clients and presentation while abusing bath salts is similar to that of amphetamine users.  Bath salts are commonly snorted or injected.  K2 is commonly smoked and is often coupled with Salvia”. What we hear is that manufacturers are constantly changing the ingredients to attempt to get around the bans.

While Spice has been around a bit longer than bath salts — experts say it first appeared in the U.S. in 2004 — the word didn’t go out on the dangers of the drug until a couple of years ago. The problem being that most people assumed that, as a copy of marijuana, spice couldn’t be that worrisome.

Ask NIDA scientist Marilyn A. Huestis, Ph.D., what she wants to tell young people about the synthetic (manmade) marijuana called Spice, and she responds with passion. In a recent interview with SBB, Dr. Huestis shared a news story about teens in Dallas who went to the ER with chest pains, only to learn that they had had heart attacks. All of them had recently smoked Spice.

NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study asked teens about synthetic marijuana (spice) for the first time in the 2011 survey. What they found: Approximately 1 in every 10 high school seniors reported use in the past 12 months. Teens and young adults may be drawn to Spice because sometimes it comes in flavors.

“We’re learning more about Spice and how it works in the body and brain every day,” said Dr. Huestis. “Research is focusing on the body’s cannabinoid system, which regulates hunger, memory, and heart rate, among many other important functions. Spice and marijuana hijack this system.”

Risks to Public Health

  • Health warnings have been issued by numerous State and local public health authorities and poison control centers describing the adverse health effects associated with the use of synthetic cannabinoids, substituted cathinones, and their related products.
  • The effects of synthetic marijuana include agitation, extreme nervousness, nausea, vomiting, tachycardia (fast, racing heartbeat), elevated blood pressure, tremors and seizures, hallucinations, and dilated pupils.  Similar to the adverse effects of cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine, bath salt use is associated with increased heart rate and blood pressure, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, and violent behavior, which causes users to harm themselves or others.
  • Bath salts are a dangerous drug whose full risks and effects are still unknown. What doctors at poison centers have reported is that bath salts can cause rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, chest pains, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia and delusions. These chemicals act in the brain like stimulant drugs thus they present a high abuse and addiction liability.