If you live in the Houston area, you may remember the May 2016 news story about the synthetic drug bust. One of the 16 people charged was a finance professor at the University of Houston. A month later, a dozen people at Hermann Park were taken to the hospital. These people were reported as having “altered states of mind,” walking around the park at 2:30 in the afternoon.
Incidents like this aren’t unique to the Houston area. Similar cases are popping up around the country, many times involving violent, outrageous behavior. What is causing these events? The answer is: synthetic drugs.
Synthetic drugs, also called “designer” drugs, are created in laboratories. Some of the chemicals used to make them were originally developed to become new prescription drugs for pharmaceutical companies, but they didn’t end up being used for this purpose. Rogue chemists have since taken these chemicals, modified them slightly so they’re technically legal, and sold them as “research chemicals.”
The rise of synthetic drugs is an epidemic that’s affecting many lives, especially young people. This is why it’s important to know:
- Different types of synthetic drugs that are out there
- Dangers these drugs pose to our loved ones
- Treatments available for addicts
Read below to learn more about this new drug revolution.
Why Do So Many People Turn to Synthetic Drugs?
One reason synthetics have become popular is they are believed to give you a “safe” high. In addition, they’re easy to get a hold of. You can find them in smoke shops, convenience stores, and online. Designer drugs are also perceived as a better value than other drugs.
Synthetic marijuana, for example, can be 800 times more powerful than its plant-based counterpart. Though synthetic marijuana sells for around $30 per gram, the buyer can get a remarkably strong high from just one dose. Since the drugs are manmade, the potency of the drug is literally in the hands of the manufacturer, and every dose is different.
Designer drugs are so sneaky that drug tests don’t pick up on them. This is a key reason why synthetic drugs are popular among teenagers, and others looking for a way to get high without getting caught. You can’t even tell someone has taken anything by being around them. There isn’t a familiar odor associated with synthetic drugs. Some are actually odorless.
Who Are the Most Common Abusers of Synthetic Drugs?
The most common abusers of synthetic drugs are:
- Young Teens: Young people between ages 12 and 17 are a prime target. Their gullibility and curiosity, combined with easy access to the drugs, are all factors in why many teens try them.
- Recovering Addicts: People recovering from an addiction to drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, or cocaine see synthetic versions of these drugs as safe alternatives to the more “dangerous” drugs they’re getting clean from. However, because the potency of a designer drug is so volatile, they could actually be taking something much stronger than anything they used as an addict.
- Convicted Felons: Synthetic drugs are a big problem in prisons. Inmates know their secret won’t show up in drug tests, and easy access only heightens the temptation to use them.
Now that you know who these drugs appeal to most, it’s time to get familiar with common types of synthetic drugs and their effects on the body.
The Types of Synthetic Drugs Currently Available
At this moment, you can bet another type of designer drug is in the works in a lab somewhere in the world. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration can’t keep up with the continual flood of new, even more dangerous, drugs getting smuggled into the country. There are currently hundreds of different kinds of these drugs, all of them extremely dangerous.
Here are the most well-known synthetic drugs available today:
Spice and K2
These are just two of many street names for synthetic marijuana. This drug is sold in small, silver plastic bags and looks like dried leaves. It can also be found in liquid form. Synthetic marijuana is advertised as legal and safe, but neither is true. It’s a highly addictive drug.
Molly, or Ecstasy
Molly, also referred to as MDMA, is a synthetic version of Ecstasy. Like Ecstasy, it’s commonly distributed at music festivals, night clubs, and dance clubs as a colored pill. Users may believe it is only Ecstasy they’re taking, but the pill could actually be laced with some kind of chemical compound to make it even more potent.
Krokodil, a.k.a. desomorphine, is a derivative of the opioid pain medication codeine. It’s similar to heroin in both use and effects. It is highly addictive and can be made at home by mixing codeine with paint thinner, gasoline, hydrochloric acid, and iodine. Krokodil is known to be even more lethal than its cousin, heroin.
Synthetic cocaine is easily accessible and still legal in most countries. It can be found online, where it’s labeled as “research chemicals,” “plant food,” or other misleading names. It’s sold under street names such as Mind Melt, Amplified, or Mint Mania.
Bath Salts are synthetic stimulants. They cause hallucinations similar to the drug LSD. They’re sold in small plastic or foil packages, and look a lot like the bath salts they’re named after. They are also sold as capsules, or in small jars as a liquid. Street names include Arctic Blast, Blue Silk, or Monkey Dust, among many others.
Synthetic forms of the drug LSD are referred to as N-bomb or Smiles. Synthetic psychedelics are powerful hallucinogens. There are many variations of them, but the most potent is “25I.” N-bomb is sold in liquid or powdered form, and can also be injected, inhaled, or even used as a suppository. A tiny amount of this drug can last for 12 hours or longer.
Synthetic versions of fentanyl and ketamine are widely available. They’re usually injected, but ketamine can also be smoked or sniffed. These drugs have unpredictable and more severe side effects than the opioids they’re derived from. Ketamine is typically called Vitamin K on the street.
What are the Side Effects of Synthetic Drug Use?
The effects of synthetic drugs are deadly, and sometimes even violent. The high comes on fast and strong. It’s important to know the signs someone has taken designer drugs so you can take action immediately if you notice these symptoms in a friend or loved one.
Here are common symptoms of someone who has taken synthetic drugs:
- Extreme anxiety
- Suicidal or homicidal behavior
- Chest pain or heart attack
Delusions Less severe effects include:
- Inability to speak
There are many stories about the harmful effects of synthetic drugs. Many users have died. If you think a loved one might be using designer drugs, don’t hesitate to seek help immediately.
What Treatment is Available for Synthetic Drug Use?
There are many options available to help a loved one overcome an addiction to designer drugs, including:
- 12 Step Program
- Family & Individual Therapy
- Self-Help Support Group
- An Inpatient Program—most mental health hospitals offer adult psychiatric inpatient programs as well as inpatient programs for adolescents.
- An Outpatient Program—partial hospitalization programs are a good solution if the patient doesn’t need 24 hour supervision.
The type of treatment you seek will depend on the severity of the situation. For example, if your loved one is already addicted, they may need the 24/7 care provided during an inpatient treatment program.
Synthetic drugs are dangerous and widely available. Young people are especially susceptible to the allure of these drugs, promising to give them a “legal” and “safe” high. As you now know, these drugs are anything but safe. They can cause serious side effects—and even death. The best way to help your loved ones is to talk to them about the dangers of synthetic drugs, or stage an intervention if you know they’re using them.
If you have any questions on synthetic drugs or on treatment programs to help you or a loved one overcome an addiction, contact Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital today by calling (832) 834-7710.
Understanding the Dangers of Synthetic Drugs: http://www.narconon.org/drug-abuse/synthetics/
What You Need to Know: http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/13/health/synthetic-drugs-7-things/
Fact Books and Other Resources: http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/synthetic.html
Experts Warn of Dangerous New Synthetic Drugs: http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/news/20160616/painkiller-that-killed-prince-part-of-dangerous-wave-of-new-synthetic-drugs
Why People Use Synthetic Drugs: http://www.interventionsupport.com/people-use-synthetic-drugs/
Synthetic Drug Fact Sheet: http://publicsafety.syr.edu/display.cfm?content_ID=%23%2BH5!%0A
Information on Synthetics: http://www.narconon.org/drug-abuse/synthetics/classes.html
Dangerous New Legal Drugs: http://www.businessinsider.com/new-synthetic-drugs-2015-8
Warning Signs and What You Need to Know: http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/01/us/iyw-synthetic-drugs-resources/
Facts about K2, Spice, and Bath Salts: https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/ondcp-fact-sheets/synthetic-drugs-k2-spice-bath-salts