“There’s no such thing as a good batch when you’re dealing with these synthetic drugs. You’re using something you have no idea what it is. It’s like Russian roulette.”
~ Anthony Pettigrew, spokesman for the New England division of the Drug Enforcement Agency
By its very nature, substance abuse can cause legal complications for drug users and addicts. People in search of their next “high” constantly run the risk of being arrested, and the penalties can be severe.
For example, under Idaho law, if an individual possesses more than three ounces of marijuana, they can be charged with a felony and may face up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines. More serious drug charges in Idaho can result in life imprisonment.
An Attempt to Skirt the Law
Consequently, illegal drug manufacturers formulate new chemical and drug compounds that can act as an illicit intoxicant – a narcotic, stimulant, or hallucinogen, for example – but with a chemical structure that has been altered enough to the point that it may not qualify under current anti-drug restrictions.
In other words, a drug user can still get high, but in most cases, they are technically not breaking the law by doing so, because there is no law against that precise chemical formulation.
“If something does not test positive or if U.S. Customs and border protection cannot articulate why a thing may not enter the United States, I don’t know that we have the legal authority to continue to hold it,” said Chief Ed Low of the US Border Patrol.
When law enforcement becomes aware of a new synthetic drug within its jurisdiction, and legislation is enacted to ban that substance, the manufacturer just steps back for a moment, tweaks the formula a bit, and reintroduces the “new and improved” drug.
By the most conservative towns, there are now more than 400 different identified synthetic drugs, and more are being introduced all the time – as many as five a month.
Types of Synthetic Drugs and Their Associated Dangers
Because they are not technically illegal, these synthetic drugs are often sold out in the open in gas stations, novelty shops, and other similar establishments, usually with a deceptive label, such as “not for human consumption”, “herbal incense”, etc.
Some brands make no attempt at pretense, marketing their product as a legal substitute for marijuana and other drugs. They may even go as far as to say that they are a “safer, all-natural” alternative.
They are not.
The two most common types of synthetic drugs in Idaho include:
Synthetic cannabinoids – These are drugs that imitate the effects of marijuana, and usually come in the form of plant material that has been sprayed or laced with a chemical compound. Generic names might include “K2”, “Spice”, or “Herbal Smoking Blends”.
There are two main reasons why synthetic cannabinoids are dangerous.
First, the chemicals in synthetic cannabinoids are “full agonists”, meaning they are much more potent than the THC in actual marijuana.
Second, there is little to no regulation about what chemicals are used to saturate the herbal compound, and some of these substances can be toxic to the human body. There may be more than 100 different chemicals in one formulation.
Adverse effects include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Blurred vision
- Elevated blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Seizures and convulsions
In 2011, more than 28,000 emergency room visits were linked to synthetic drugs.
Synthetic cathinones – These are stimulants that mimic the effects of the Khat plant, a Bush that grows in southern Arabia and East Africa. Khat leaves are chewed because of their mildly euphoric, stimulating effect.
Synthetic cathinones are usually called by their more-recognizable name, “bath salts”, although there is no relation between the drug and the bathing product. They may also be sold as other innocuous products such as “plant food”, “screen cleaner”, or “jewelry cleaner”.
Brand names may include such labels as:
- White Lightning
- Vanilla Sky
- Cloud Nine
- And many other such names
Synthetic cathinones appear as brown or white crystalline powders, and like other stimulants, they are snorted, swallowed, smoked, or injected for their effects.
Bath salts are usually marketed as a cheap, safer alternative to cocaine or methamphetamines, but they are in fact very dangerous, producing effects such as:
- Unreasonable paranoia
- Frightening hallucinations
- Panic attacks
- Extremely violent behavior
Withdrawing from Synthetic Drugs
Both synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones can be highly addictive and can trigger intense drug cravings. When these drugs are discontinued, strong withdrawal symptoms may result, including:
- Severe headaches
- Heightened anxiety
- Extreme irritability
Withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as 2-3 days after the last synthetic drug use, and will usually peak in severity between days 4-7. While unpleasant, the symptoms are not physically dangerous, and will typically begin to dissipate in 2-3 weeks.
Although these synthetic drugs were created to mimic the effects of other drugs, they are chemically different, so there are currently no medications available that are specifically designed to ease any withdrawal symptoms.
Warning Signs of Synthetic Drug Abuse
It is impossible for any drug test to accurately determine if a person has been abusing synthetic drugs because there are so many different formulations. Therefore, anyone concerned that their loved one may be using synthetic drugs must rely on signs and symptoms such as:
- Mood swings/manic euphoria
- Profuse sweating/overheating
- Confusion/inability to focus or concentrate
- Incoherent speech
- Rapid heartbeat/chest pain/heart attack
- Aggression/homicidal tendencies
- Seizures, perhaps even to the point of being life-threatening
The abuse of synthetic drugs is not only addictive – it can be fatal, not only to the abuser but to people around them. It is imperative – absolutely critical – that a person who is using synthetic drugs get immediate professional help.
Northpoint Recovery is Idaho’s premier inpatient addiction rehabilitation program, providing individualized treatment plans based upon each client’s unique needs and circumstances. Make the call today and stop the debilitating progress of the disease of addiction in your life.