Synthetic drugs pose serious threat to youth

Published 11:38 am Wednesday, March 23, 2011

RALEIGH — State public health officials are concerned about the availability of K2 (synthetic marijuana) and other laboratory-produced street drugs to youth.  The N.C. Division of Public Health supports efforts by state lawmakers to prohibit the sale of these substances which are being marketed as innocuous items such as “incense” or “bath salts.”

“These products have been marketed and sold legally but their intent is to get users high by smoking or snorting the product,” State Health Director Dr. Jeff Engel said.  “Our concern is the potential for dangerous side effects, such as hallucinations, possible seizures and rapid heart rate.  Some states have even seen deaths related to these products.”

Preliminary studies indicate that synthetic marijuana substances like K2 are three to 100 times more potent than THC, the active ingredient found in marijuana. Producers spray cannabinoid, a chemical compound, onto flowers, herbs, and tobacco, and then sell it in stores as potpourri or incense and label it as “not for human consumption.”  However, youth and adults are purchasing it to smoke for its potent high; hence the name K2 – a reference to one of the world’s highest mountains. 

Last year, there were more than 100 emergency department visits related to synthetic cannabinoids. The majority of visits were young people ages 13-24 with complaints including abdominal cramps, chest pain, seizures, difficulty breathing, and rapid heart rate. In just the first two months of 2011, there were more than 20 E.R. visits related to the use of bath salts with complaints of anxiety, agitation and other psychiatric complaints such as hallucinations so far this year. The N.C. Poison Control Center also has noted an increased call volume due to synthetic drugs. 

Senate Bill 7 proposes that North Carolina add K2 to its list of controlled substances.  The bill includes synthetic stimulants, including mephedrone and methyenedioxyprovalerone (MDPV).  Both are marketed as bath salts, but when snorted, mimic the effects of cocaine, ecstasy, and other illegal drugs.  The bill would make it illegal for anyone to sell, manufacture, deliver, transport, or possess synthetic cannabinoids including K2 or synthetic stimulants including mephedrone or MDPV.  Violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the amount in possession.  

Health officials urge parents to be alert to these products.  Some brand names for K2 include ‘Silver Spice,’ ‘Diamond Spice,’ ’Yakatan Fire Spice,’ ’PEP Spice’ and ‘Fire ‘n Ice.’  Synthetic stimulants also have been sold legally as bath salts or plant food with various names including “Ivory Wave,” “Bliss”, and “White Lightning.”