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Synthetic drugs and ignorance are dangerous mix

Post by Brian O'Neill on Nov. 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm with 13 Comments »
November 14, 2011 6:07 pm

Consider, if you will, a drug specifically engineered for the pleasure of the recreational drug user. Compared to its natural derivative, marijuana, this synthetic version can produce a high up to 800 times stronger, last hours longer, and foil routine drug screen tests. All that for just a few dollars more than the comparative cost of a joint.

Synthetic marijuana labeled as "Spice"/AP Photo

For people willing to risk their health and freedom on illegal drugs, synthetic marijuana must sound pretty darn good. Instead, they would find this perception to be unequivocally and tragically wrong.

There is a general lack of public knowledge regarding the newly popular version of synthetic marijuana. These products, known as synthetic cannabinoids, are marketed on the street and online under enticing labels such as “Spice” or “K2.”

Synthetic marijuana has already proven to be a toxic choice for an growing number of recreational drug users. It is reported that phone calls to poison control requesting assistance for related symptoms have risen by 500%. Also, synthetic marijuana reportedly accounts for 16% of recent drug-related discharges from the military.

Mephedrone packaged as bath salts/ AP Photo

Bath salts, another popular new synthetic drug, also has a distant plant relative. It is derived from an east African plant known as khat. The leaves of this plant are chewed by users (who number in the millions), but the synthetic version is based on the compound mephedrone, a chemical found in many amphetamines.

Because the criminal justice system has only recently become aware of the dangers these drugs pose, dealers have made the purchase process a simple Internet transaction. They can also be ingested in many ways, such as smoking, mixing with food or liquid, or inhaling like incense.

The high can last several hours. Sensations include feelings of anxiety and paranoia as well as open and closed eye hallucinations. During this period the user will feel cold, numb and nauseous. Vomiting and memory loss are also common.

Most significantly, these lesser known drugs produce a side effect similar to Phencyclidine (aka PCP or angel dust). Users of PCP experience a mental state known as excited delirium (ED). The first indication that a subject is having an ED episode is a 911 call of a naked subject with inhuman strength and no pain response on a violent rampage. Under these effects the potential of injury to the subject and police alike is extremely great.

In some cases  these symptoms have led to violent psychotic events.

In April 2010 Army Sgt David Stewart killed his wife and then himself during a police chase. Their 5 year old son was found dead in their home. Police believe the couple had recently begun to experiment with bath salts.

A recent LA Times article reported that three otherwise healthy sixteen year old boys from Texas had suffered heart attacks. The only commonality in their health records showed that all had experimented with synthetic marijuana in the past week.

Those of us in law enforcement who have witnessed such incidents, either in person or in training videos, know the real threat posed by synthetic drug users. But in schools, on military posts and in homes, too many people are unaware of the vast and potentially lethal difference between pot and synthetic drugs. Because of this young people are easily tempted to try products such as K2, Spice and Europa.

In reality there is already a great deal of information on the toxic chemistry, the dangerous side effects, the violent police encounters, and the lethal results of abusing synthetic drugs. So let’s settle on one last bit of knowledge that just may save the life of someone who failed to heed the warning.

The phone number for poison control is 800-222-1222.

Leave a comment Comments → 13
  1. TtownMatt says:

    Marijuana, illegal, zero overdoses ever. Synthetic marijuana, legal, numerous problems the scope of which is just beginning to scratch the surface. Ironic. If marijuana were legal, would synthetic marijuana ever have been invented? I think not. Synthetics are used and abused because they don’t show up on urinalysis, which is why many school kids, military, and anyone worried about a ua might find synthetics appealing. As soon as the latest batch of bath salts or whatever the name of the current synthetic is illegalized, another slightly changed possibly more dangerous synthetic will pop up. Unfortunatly our laws have created this monster.

  2. Americans are experts at psychopharmacology.
    Just ask anyone who stares at the evening news.

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    Ttownmatt- Thanks for your comment. Synthetic drugs have recently been criminalized in our state, with other states soon to join in. You are correct in suggesting that the chemists will soon be back in the lab, but don’t fall into the trap of equating this junk with MJ. It is as similar to pot as a T-rex is to a seagull.

  4. TtownMatt says:

    Not tyring to equate the two, quite the opposite Brian. I was just pointing out that if marijuana, a herb, were legal, there might not have ever been a reason to develop synthetic marijuana. I guess the old saying goes “Never mess with Mother Nature” applies here. Keep up the good work Brian.

  5. Chippert says:

    Good article, Brian. TtownMatt, I think your MJ reference is a bit misguided. If MJ were legal there would still be the demand for SMJ, bath salts, PCP and the other drugs. Why? Because this type of person is always looking for a higher high, a new thrill. Should MJ be legalized? I tend to be in favor of that but I can’t see using your argument as a reason. MJ is not harmless. It is an intoxicant and is psychogenic – but not on the level of these other drugs. Even if legalized, it will still need to have controls placed on it for the safety of the general public.

    The next time you see someone on PCP or any other drug, go ask them if they would prefer MJ. My bet is the answer (if they were physically able to give one) would be an emphatic “NO!”

  6. BlaineCGarver says:

    Good article, Sir…..I tend to look at it as a good Darwinian(sp?) gene pool cleaning…Just like 9mm and .380, we would be well served by putting it out on the street corners for free, just to help out
    Darwin out a bit.

  7. Brian O'Neill says:

    The difference with these new synthetics is that they are marketed as a cheap and undetectable version of marijuana. Many of the kids who experiment with these know little about their actual composition, which is why there is a need for education on the subject.

  8. SafewayOrangeSoda says:


    Gotta tell ya, the potheads that are sucking in the fumes of this crap just MIGHT NOT be the kinda folks that get a lot of benefit from “education on the subject” of drugs.
    Just let ‘em OD, clear out the gene pool, and move on.

  9. Chippert says:

    While we wait for all these hundreds to “OD, clear out the gene pool”, they just might take a few other people with them, through car crashes, psychotic episodes and the like. And, of course, only a very small percentage of these “potheads” will OD. Would you care if it were your child, other family member, or friend that they took with them? Would you care if it were YOUR child who was the pothead.

    This world needs a whole lot more empathy with others to solve these problems, if they can be solved, and attitudes of “I don’t care, let them die” actually contributes to the problem.

  10. SafewayOrangeSoda says:

    Screw empathy. Let em die.

  11. Earth_watch says:

    The problem isn’t just the effects on the drug user, it’s how other innocent people may be affected, too.

    Use of “bath salts”, in particular, have resulted in horrific behaviors of the user, such as completely random and senseless acts of violence committed upon total strangers. So, this then does become a larger problem, not just that of the drug user’s but a problem in which we would all benefit in correcting.

  12. BlaineCGarver says:

    Like in Nature, the price of stupidity is death….

  13. FYI, the incident with Sgt. Stewart occurred in April of this year not 2010.

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