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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Synthetic Drugs

synthetic drugs rehabWhen family and friends suspect that a loved one is abusing substances, they often think of the usual suspects like marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, and opiates. However, over the past several years, the drug world has made the transition into the 21st century. The prevalence of synthetic drug abuse has grown exponentially. Synthetic drug use is now as severe if not more severe than traditional drug use in American culture, especially with adolescents and young adults.

The goal of this blog is to introduce individuals to what these drugs are, and to identify what to look for if a loved one is using these drugs.

Spice, K2, and other synthetic cannabis: Synthetic cannabis is often marketed under the names of “Spice,” “K2,” simply “synthetic marijuana.” These drugs are often sold over the counter and require no identification to buy them. They are marketed as incense or potpourri, but using them to achieve psychoactive effects is the only real purpose. Synthetic marijuana is chemically similar to THC and is sprayed or mixed with different generic herbs. Due to the variability of the chemical that is sprayed or mixed, producers are able to work around current drug laws. The use of these substances has several side effects that include anxiety, nausea, racing heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, seizures, tremors, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts. Synthetic marijuana is now the third most abused substance by high school students, with one in nine high school seniors reporting use of synthetic marijuana in the past month.

Bath Salts: Substituted cathinones (or “Bath Salts”) are the second most popular synthetic drug that is now being abused. These cathinones received the name of Bath Salts due to the visual resemblance they share with Epsom salts, as well as them often being labeled for sale as such. Bath Salts are very similar to both amphetamines and cocaine, in that they are very strong stimulants. Currently there are over 70 variations of chemicals that are classified as substituted cathinones, with several other substances being very structurally similar. Bath Salts have several side effects including headaches, racing heartbeat, reduced body temperature, hallucinations, paranoia, and violent behavior. The use of bath salts has been increasing since the mid 2000s, which resulted in over 10,000 calls to poison control centers in 2012.

Kratom: Opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl are some of the common synthetic opioids that are now prevalent in American society. Although these opioids are usually prescription drugs used to treat pain, they have been shown to have a high rate of abuse. A drug that you have most likely not heard of is Kratom. Although Kratom is not technically a synthetic opioid, it still bears mentioning, as it is one of the most abused legal opioids. Kratom is a leaf that comes from Southeast Asia that has been used for thousands of years as painkiller and antidepressant. The leaf is taken from the tree then brewed as a tea, made into a powder, or manufactured into pill form. Chemically, it is structurally similar to morphine. Unlike Spice and Bath Salts, Kratom is usually bought over the Internet and has virtually no regulation in the United States. Side effects of Kratom are similar to other opioids that include constipation, sleep problems, weight loss, and high potential for overdosing. Although popular, there is currently no information available on prevalence of use in the United States.

The use of synthetic drugs presents several unique challenges in prevention, side effects, and treatment. The availability of these drugs is one of the biggest issues. Spice is often sold in gas stations and convenience stores, and is largely unregulated due to it’s unique chemical make up. Immediate side effects from these substances are often even more severe than traditional drug use as well. Psychiatric problems such as psychosis, paranoia, and violent behavior are often common side effects. Unlike abuse of other traditional drugs, negative side effects of synthetic drugs are often apparent from the first use. Finally, due to these drugs being relatively new and all having their own unique chemical makeup, treatment is often complicated. It is ever important for the public to become knowledgeable about newer synthetic drugs as we continue to broaden the scope of addiction treatment!

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