The Dangers Of New Synthetic Drugs

bath salts synthetic drug

A recent story in Scientific American highlighted the dangers of several new synthetic drugs which are becoming increasingly widespread throughout the United States. These drugs are only the latest iteration of a common theme throughout mankind’s history.

Humans have for as long as we know used different types of plants for the purpose of achieving altered states of consciousness. Evidence has been found of the ritual use of cannabis as far back as the 3rd millennium B.C. in the area that is now Romania, as well as in China, India and throughout the Middle East. Certain tribes in the American Southwest have used mescaline, a hallucinogenic substance obtained from the peyote cactus which grows in the deserts there, for 5,700 years. Opium has been cultivated for its use as a drug since the Neolithic period. Betel nuts, which are the seed of the palm tree fruit, have been chewed for their intoxicating effects for thousands of years and are exceeded worldwide only by nicotine, alcohol and caffeine for the prevalence of use.


More recently, as Man’s understanding of the physical sciences and chemistry in particular has advanced, people have increasingly turned to powerful synthetic drugs such as LSD which are different in the respect that they don’t merely happen to cause an intoxicating effect—they are designed and engineered with the purpose of doing so.

The category referred to as synthetic or designer drugs has been recognized since the 1980s when law enforcement agencies first began using the terms to refer to drugs including LSD, methamphetamine, and ecstasy (MDMA). Two new designer drugs have recently received large amounts of media attention due to the fact that they have become increasingly common throughout the country, a fact which is recognized both through the results of public surveys and through the records of emergency rooms and poison control centers. The first of these are known as cathinones, though they are more commonly referred to by the name of bath salts. The other, synthetic cannabis, is commonly referred to as either K2 or Spice.

K2 synthetic drug

Both of these drugs have until recently been entirely legal and were widely available for purchase over the internet, in smoke shops and even in many gas stations and convenience stores. They are marketed as seemingly innocuous products such as bath salts, plant food or herbal incense, and their packaging is clearly marked “Not for Human Consumption.” This type of marketing makes it possible to avoid the necessity of seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration, as well as helping the drugs to fly below the radar of law enforcement agencies.

Dangers Of Synthetic Drugs

One of the most frightening aspects of this new class of designer drug is the fact that they are always changing and their exact chemical composition is therefore unknown. The chemists who manufacture the drugs make minuscule alterations to the chemical structure of the drugs, changes that are significant enough to make the substance technically legal, while being sufficiently minor as to preserve the drug’s intoxicating effects. This draws law enforcement agencies and legislators into a continual cat-and-mouse chase of trying to stay informed about the latest drugs so that they can be banned and kept off the market. It also means that it is impossible to know exactly what types of effects the drugs will have, which leads to large numbers of medical emergencies among users. For example, the American Association of Poison Control Calls noticed a 58 percent increase from 2010 to 2011 in calls related to synthetic marijuana, while the National Poison Control Centers reports a twenty-fold increase in the incidence of calls involving bath salt overdose. As these numbers indicate, synthetic drug use is on the rise, and the rate of increase is alarming.

Legislators and law enforcement have their work cut out for them in attempting to get this public health crisis under control, but the most effective way to stop the spread of synthetic drugs is for individuals to share what they know about the dangers involved. And first of all, people must know that the fact that the drugs are legal does not mean that they are safe.



Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.