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Designer Drug Dangers: Synthetic Marijuana and Bath Salts

Designer drugs are laboratory-made synthetic substances made to be close in composition to illegal drugs, but with enough differences to circumvent current drug laws. Some designer drugs like methamphetamine, MDMA, and ketamine have been criminalized and scheduled by the DEA, but new designer drugs are continually cropping up.

When the chemical composition of drugs is altered, results can be unpredictable. Synthetic marijuana, for example, seems as though it would be safe alternative to marijuana because of its legal status. Drugs like K2 and Spice, however, have the potential to create extremely harmful side effects. The structural differences from marijuana cause it to have different, and often bizarre, effects on the human body. Dr. Anthony Scalzo, chief toxicologist at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, explains, “People on synthetic cannabinoid products can act anywhere from a bit confused to completely out of their minds, depending on the dose of K2 used and an individual’s susceptibility to the drug.” Symptoms of synthetic marijuana can include hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, agitation, and extremely high blood pressure. Regular marijuana contains cannabidiol, also known as CBD, which counteracts many of the negative psychoactive effects of THC. Synthetic marijuana rarely contains CBD, making the effects much more pronounced.

Designer drugs can also include analogues of amphetamines and ecstasy. The most commonly abused alternative to these illegal substances is a class of drug generally referred to as “bath salts”. Bath salts contain high levels of synthetic stimulants, which can lead to chest pains, high blood pressure, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, bath salt use has been linked to an “alarming number of Emergency Room visits across the country.” In addition to the severity of acute symptoms, “users of “bath salts” report intense cravings and their frequent consumption can induce tolerance, dependence, and strong withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug.” The NIDA is currently trying to get a handle on these forms of designer drugs, but the output of the drugs is constantly increasing. The ubiquity of designer drugs is becoming a major public health concern and causing users to develop a variety of unpredictable and dangerous symptoms.

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