Synthetic marijuana sold under the guise of “herbal incense” is not the only “legal” product harming its users, say state and federal officials.
Now, synthetic stimulants added to certain products marketed as “bath salts” are reportedly being used as recreational drugs because they mimic the effects of cocaine, ecstasy and other illegal drugs.
The products are sold under such brand names as “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” “Vanilla Sky,” and “Bliss.” The drugs are typically ingested by snorting, according to a statement by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which also claims that the products can be ingested orally, smoked, and injected.
The North Carolina state Senate passed two bills that would ban the possession, sale or distribution of synthetic substances used in the so-called fake marijuana and bath salt products. Both bills were unanimously approved on Feb. 11.
If passed by the state House of Representatives, the bill banning synthetic cannabinoids would make simple possession of the substance a misdemeanor, and possession of 35 or more grams a felony. A fine of no less than $50,000 would be imposed upon the felony possession. The law would take effect as of April 1.
The bill banning the synthetic stimulants found within bath salts and plant food, identified as mephedrone and MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone), would take effect as of Dec.1, if passed by the House.
Other states are also beginning the process of banning the products, include Kentucky, Louisiana and North Dakota. Other states such as Florida, Hawaii and Michigan have already successfully enacted bans on the stimulants.
Unlike the synthetic cannabinoids labled “incense,” the synthetic stimulants used in “bath salts” have been associated with severe side effects, according to DEA public affairs spokesman Rusty Payne. “This stuff is no joke,” he said. “They create severe hallucinogenic effects that are really harmful. You can overdose and you can even die.”
Poison center doctors and clinicians throughout the U.S. advise that ingesting “bath salt” stimulants can cause life threatening side effects, according to a report by the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC). Chest pains, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, kidney damage, extreme paranoia, and delusions are all among the effects reported by users.
“There is significant toxicity associated with the use of these products,” said North Carolina Poison Control Center (NCPCC) Dr. Anna Dulaney, stressing that at the moment the center is uncertain of what in the stimulants causes these side effects.
According to the AAPCC, abuse of the drugs has grown across the country. Last year, 236 calls related to “bath salts” were received by poison control centers throughout the U.S. and already this year, 251 calls have been made to the centers regarding health issues attributed to the drug.
Since Jan. 17, the NCPCC reported 24 calls of incidents involving “bath salt.” Four cases were reported from Western North Carolina in Buncombe, Alexander, McDowell and Burke counties. “They’re not as clustered around the urban areas as much as K2 (‘incense’) was,” said Dulaney, who has been with the center since its inception in 1992. “We’re seeing the largest concentration of calls from around the military installations, quite frankly.”
Dulaney, a toxicologist, said that the presence of the drug is an emerging threat to North Carolina as calls to the center have been increasing recently. She added that the center isn’t sure whether the usage of the drugs is increasing, or if calls to the center are increasing due to public awareness. “People that are wanting to try different things, they see it, they read about it on the internet – they decide to try it,” she said.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the stimulants are primarily abused by people between the ages of 15 and 24. A DEA report suggests that because use of the products often does not appear in drug screenings, they are likely desirable to individuals who may be subject to urinalysis, such as those in drug courts or on probation or parole.
Poison center statistics include cases in almost every state. Incidents of people harming themselves, and in some cases, committing suicide while on the drug, have been reported.
On Jan. 22, one man reportedly stabbed himself in the stomach and face repeatedly with a skinning knife, as reported by The Chicago Sun Times.
Another man committed suicide on Jan. 31 after using the drug. In a suicide note, the man attributed his death to the use of the unregulated drug, reported WFAA-TV.
Scheduling “bath salt” stimulants as controlled substances won’t be an easy task, says Payne. “There’s no timetable for it unfortunately … It’s a long process.” He said that not only does the DEA have to research the matter, but other agencies like the Food and Drug Administration have to also recommend the substances be scheduled as controlled drugs, before any action can be taken by the federal government. Payne advised that though a federal ban is not currently in place, the public should steer clear of the drug.
Last November, the DEA used its emergency authority to schedule five synthetic cannabinoid chemicals as controlled substances, which were added to certain “incense” products.
The scourge of the drug has even caught the attention of Washington. On Feb. 1, White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske described the “bath salt” products as an “emerging threat” and urged the American public to be aware of them.
“I am deeply concerned about the distribution, sale, and use of synthetic stimulants – especially those that are marketed as legal substances,” said Kerlikowske in a statement. “Although we lack sufficient data to understand exactly how prevalent the use of these stimulants are, we know they pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of young people and anyone who may use them.
“At a time when drug use in America is increasing, the marketing and sale of these poisons as ‘bath salts’ is both unacceptable and dangerous,” Kerlikowske continued. “As public health officials work to address this emerging threat, I ask that parents and other adult influences act immediately to discuss with young people the severe harm that can be caused by the use of both legal and illegal drugs and to prevent drug use before it starts.”
Kerlikowske cited two steps parents can take to protect young people:
1. Talk to your kids about drugs. Research shows parents are the best messengers to deliver critical information on drug use. Make sure they know of the harm that can result from drug use and that you don’t approve of them. For tips and parenting advice visit www.TheAntiDrug.com.
2. Learn to spot risk factors that can lead to drug use. Association with drug-abusing peers is often the most immediate risk factor that can lead young people to drug use and delinquent behavior. Other risk factors include poor classroom behavior or social skills and academic failure. Parents can protect their kids from these influences by building strong bonds with their children, staying involved in their lives, and setting clear limits and consistent enforcement of discipline.
For more information on national efforts to reduce drug use and its consequences, visit www.WhiteHouseDrugPolicy.gov.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy seeks to foster healthy individuals and safe communities by effectively leading the nation’s effort to reduce drug use and its consequences.