What We’re Up Against

By Dr. Mandy Neeble Diamond

bags of synthetic marijuana

A new struggle facing drug and alcohol treatment centers throughout the U.S. is the use and abuse of synthetic drugs. The most common synthetics being abused are; Spice, 25b-Nbome, Kratom, and Bath Salts.

Spice mimics Marijuana. It was sold as all natural herbal tea and smoking blends for years before being tested by German scientists to reveal it contained very few natural herbs. Through research, it was determined most Spice blends contain gasoline solvent, red phosphorus and other harsh chemicals. A key component of Spice is JWH compounds. There are 450 different JWH strands, all which mimic marijuana. The most common JWH strands have been made illegal in the United States. However, Spice creations are still being sold. The manufactures have removed the illegal chemicals and have re-formulated the chemicals, re-branded and re-packaged the Spice, allowing most smoke shops the ability to sell legal forms of Spice. Spice smoke blends have caused many individuals to suffer from psychosis and most recently there has been a spike in deaths related to Spice usage.

Smiles (2C-I) mimics a mix of stimulants and psychedelics. Smiles surfaced in Europe in the early 2000’s and were sold as 2CB, which was eventually banned. 2C-I was created as the synthetic to 2CB. It contains Dimethoxy, Iodophenethylamine, and Acetone chemicals.
It is sold in the form of powder, liquid and pills. For young teens, the most common way of ingestion is melting the Smiles and then melting a chocolate bar, mixing the components and re-freezing the chocolate bar, then eating it. One of the major dangers with doing this is the individual consuming the bar has no idea the dosage they are ingesting. The recreational dosage is usually 10-25mg; however, most effects are felt after 2mg.

Overdoses from Smiles have been reported in Minnesota, North Dakota and Indiana. 25B-Nbome is the derivative of Smiles but contains additional chemicals and is more potent. Overdoses from 25B-Nbome have been reported throughout the United States. Paranoia, violent behavior and psychosis are common side effects associated with the use of 25B-Nbome.

Kratom mimics opiates. Out of all the synthetics listed, Kratom is an all-natural substance. It is made from the leaves of a tree in Southeast Asia. The tree is part of the Mitragyna Speciosa. Kratom leaves have been used for years in Asia for medicinal purposes. Kratom is sold in tea form, pills, powder and liquid form. By the time it is sold in the United States, it usually has been altered and is not sold in an all-natural form. Kratom works the same way as other opiates such as heroin and works on the opioid receptors.

Bath Salts mimic amphetamines. They are composed of synthetic cathinones. Cathinones are similar to ephedrine and other amphetamines. The synthetic cathinones which are used in Bath Salts are usually mephedrone, methylhezaneamine and/ or methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDVP). Depending on where the Bath Salts are manufactured the composition can vary. Some Bath Salts contain derivatives of Pipradol (Metatran), which is a mild central nervous stimulant. Bath Salts are known to cause panic attacks, hallucinations, mania, hostility, kidney failure, liver failure, heart attacks and severe brain damage. It was reported by the Poison Control Center in 2010 that there were 304 reports of overdoses because of Bath Salts and 6,138 by 2011.

Individuals, including the addict and their loved ones believe the synthetics are safe alternatives to illegal drugs. Mainly, because they can be bought in many smoke shops and gas stations as long as you are over age 18 and because most are labeled as “all natural”.

Synthetics are used by individuals of all ages. They are widely abused by young adults, athletes, military personnel and teens. Many professionals also use synthetics because they do not show on most standardized drug tests. A common misperception is that they won’t show on any drug tests. However, they can be tested for through specialized panels, which are now used within high profile treatment centers.

Many people believe synthetic drugs are new. However, they have been around and have been sold as “research chemicals” since the early 1990’s. Most were discovered through exploratory measures. In the early 2000’s they were sold as herbal teas, incense, and herbal smoking blends.

They are used for a majority of reasons but the most common reasons are; they mimic illegal drugs of abuse, they are considered a “legal high”, they are easy to obtain, they provide the same subjective effects of illegal drugs, they allow individuals to circumvent the law and avoid legal issues and they have increased potency in comparison to some illegal drugs.

The truth about synthetic drugs is they are dangerous and there is nothing safe about them. Emergency rooms throughout the United States have seen an increase in ER visits from individuals using synthetic drugs and suffering from mental health symptoms including; paranoia, suicidal ideation, feeling as though they are possessed, violent behavior, severe depression, and anxiety. Along with the mental health symptoms, many individuals visiting the emergency room are also exhibiting seizures, increase in blood pressure, cardiac issues, headaches and loss of bowel control.

The first step to prevention is knowledge: knowing what is out there and being sold in local shops and having the education around the synthetics and knowing the dangers of them. For treatment centers, parents or companies who implement drug testing protocols, its important to know about the specialized tests and making sure the drug testing laboratories are testing for the synthetic compounds.

Dr. Mandy Neeble Diamond is the Clinical Director for Hotel California by the Sea. Her unique background also includes a strong forensic basis having worked at Twin Towers County Jail in Los Angeles, Chino State Prison, and California Youth Authority. She has worked with the severely mentally ill, violent offenders, and the incompetent to stand trial program.