More and more callers are reaching out to poison control centers in Texas, concerned about the effects of using different synthetic substances – more than ever before, in fact. Spice, K2, and other so-called “designer” drugs that are often sold legally on the street and in stores, in pouches marked as “not fit for human consumption,” are the subject of these calls, the number of which have skyrocketed in the past year.
In response to the increasing problem, Attorney General Ken Paxton has launched a new initiative to fully research the issue and is providing free resources to families in need of assistance along the way. So far, the state research project has found that people between the ages of 12 and 20 make up the majority of users in Texas, and this can mean a high risk of devastatingly early loss of life and an increased risk of addiction in adulthood due to early drug use.
Tracy Gonzalez is an officer with the SAPD. “For Texans, this is a serious health risk to all of the citizens in Texas. The numbers are not lying. The danger of these synthetic or designer drugs is very serious.”
What’s in a Name?
Heavy use of synthetic substances may be due in part to the fact that young people hear the word marijuana in the name – as in synthetic marijuana – and believe that it is similar in effect to natural marijuana plants. The fact is that synthetic marijuana is a hallucinogen, and many who use it are overwhelmed by paranoia, hallucinations, seizures, and/or suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Many have died after just one use. These issues are not common with natural marijuana and usually only occur with exceptionally heavy use and/ or when used in combination with other substances.
Legal Equals Safe?
The changing legal status of marijuana plants and subsidiary products may also be impacting young people’s opinions of synthetic marijuana. More and more states have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes as well as medicinal purposes, sending the message to young people that use of marijuana is harmless. Thus, when kids hear the word marijuana in the name of the drug, they believe that the synthetic versions are safe as well.
While natural marijuana is not safe and can be an exceptionally addictive substance, synthetic marijuana is far more dangerous. A single use can result in medical emergency and sudden death. Because it is a relatively new substance, very little is known about the long-term results of ongoing and/or heavy use.
Synthetic marijuana is easily purchased online, at novelty or head shops, and at truck stops and corner stores, and this level of availability may contribute to the idea that the drug is safe for use. “If it were harmful,” many ask, “would I be able to buy it online?”
The answer is “yes.” There is no regulatory agency for any kind of herbal supplement, potpourri, or plant food, and that is how most synthetic drugs are packaged. Though many synthetic substances are banned on a federal and/or state level, the black market chemists who make the drugs simply alter the chemical makeup slightly in order to sidestep the ban. This means that some version of the substances are almost always available somewhere and easily accessible to young people who have a far more difficult time accessing alcohol or marijuana.
The truth is that storeowners and police officers can’t tell the difference between legal and illegal synthetic substances because they are all packaged the same way, and consumers can’t tell the difference either. This means that the effects of every package of synthetic marijuana will vary even if the dose is the same, putting users in exceptional danger. This is, in fact, the problem with all synthetic substances and drugs that are sold on the street. Because there is no one there to regulate the creation of the product or the product’s distribution and sale, there is no way to know what exactly is inside or how it will impact the user.
What Do You Think?
Have you noticed increasing rates of synthetic drug abuse in your neighborhood or community? What do you think the state and local government should do to better manage the problem?