In recent years, there has been a surge in synthetic drug use by teenagers in the United States. Despite often being sold legally, these drugs are proving to be highly dangerous, especially when in the hands of adolescents and teenagers.
There are two different types of these designer drugs, synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones. Synthetic cannabinoids are strains of what are called “synthetic marijuana,” also called “K2” or “Spice.” These consist of manmade chemicals with an effect similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that produces the high, which are then sprayed onto a mixture of herbs and other plant-based materials. For this reason, it is often referred to as “fake weed” or “legal weed.”
Teenagers turn to Spice because it produces a euphoric effect similar to that of organic marijuana but it is less expensive and not detectable through standard urine drug testing. Synthetic cannabinoids were first reported in the United States in December of 2008.
Side effects of synthetic cannabinoids include:
Synthetic cathinones are manmade chemicals in the same family as amphetamine. These drugs have effects similar to cocaine and methamphetamine.
Side effects of synthetic cathinones include:
According to the 2012 Monitoring the Future survey, one in nine high school seniors in the U.S. reported having used synthetic cannabinoids in the previous year, making it the second most frequently used drug among high school seniors (after organic marijuana). Teenagers believe that Spice is simply a cheaper, easily accessible and legal version of organic marijuana. What they don’t understand is that these drugs are sending people to emergency rooms across the nation. In addition to the effects listed above, synthetic cannabinoids have the side effects of organic marijuana, including mood alterations, red eyes and an increased heart rate.
Poison centers across the country received four times the number of calls for illnesses or deaths related to Spice between January 1, 2015 and April 29, 2015 as they did the entire year of 2014. The amounts of chemicals similar to THC vary within the supplies of Spice, which raises the risk for potential overdose. In addition, the herbs and other plants that serve as the base for these drugs are unregulated and often have addictive and/or psychoactive properties.
Flakka is a popular synthetic cathinone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Florida has become a hotspot for Flakka use and distribution since coming onto the scene in 2013. Recent incidents of the drug wreaking havoc in the state include a young man running naked through the streets, trying to have intercourse with a tree and claiming to be Thor, the Greek god.
Flakka, also known as “gravel,” is sold for five dollars or less per vial. The primary active ingredient is alpha-PVP, which is on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s list of substances most likely to be abused. The drug is often mixed with other substances, including crack cocaine and heroin, making it even more dangerous and difficult to detect. Flakka can be smoked using electronic cigarettes, snorted, injected or swallowed and is typically sold in crystal form. Its desired effects include heightened awareness and sensitivity to touch.
Flakka rewires a person’s brain chemistry, making an individual unable to control his or her thoughts or behaviors. Despite the potential side effects of Flakka, which include intense paranoia and the feeling that an individual is being followed and/or chased, many teenagers turn to this synthetic designer drug for a cheap buzz.
The government has tried to regulate the usage of synthetic drugs in the U.S., incorporating the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act as part of the FDA’s Safety and Innovation Act of 2012. This act permanently put 26 varieties of synthetics into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
However, synthetic marijuana is often sold legally in retail stores as “herbal incense” or “potpourri” and labeled “not for human consumption” in an effort to avoid FDA regulations. Many believe that the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes would eradicate the market for synthetics. Similarly, synthetic cathinones are sold as “bath salts” or “jewelry cleaner.”
If you believe your teenager is experimenting with synthetic drugs, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in the treatment of teenagers struggling with substance abuse, mental health disorders or dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer