What are synthetic drugs?

Synthetic drugs are chemically laced substances that can be purchased at some gas stations, convenience stores, tobacco shops and over the internet.  The packaging of these drugs disclose that they are not for human consumption, but the
clever packaging design and creative marketing suggest clearly to the merchandise being smoked and/ or inhaled as a drug.

By design they are comparable to marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine and are commonly split into a couple of categories.  Cannabinoids and Cathinones, these are divided based on their chemical composition.


These are more commonly known as K2, or Spice that consist of lab manufactured THC –(tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high” that users experience.

 The cannabinoids are chemically formulated versions of synthetic marijuana.


Cathinones are more generally known as “bath salts.” The cathinones contain chemicals that produce effects similar to cocaine or methamphetamines (“meth”).

What Makes Synthetic Drugs So DANGEROUS?

There are many things that make synthetic drugs dangerous. First of all, the user does not know what chemicals that they are consuming.  These individual products can contain high ranges of potencies as well as large ranges of chemical combonations.  Some of these can be up to 500 times stronger than THC.

What is Spice?

Spice is synthetic cannabinoids that are sprayed onto herbs, dried flowers, tobacco, and spices.

John W. Hoffman, a professor of organic chemistry at Clemson University, developed JWH-018 and JWH-073 as a research tool to study how marijuana effects the brain. Research suggests that they are at least 3 times more potent than THC. “I emphasize that this compound was not designed to be a super THC,” states Hoffman.  “It should absolutely not be used as a recreational drug.”

Spice or herbal incense is also known as fake marijuana, k2, G4 Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, and mojo (there are many other names.) They are sold as incense, and do not list all of their ingredients.  The non-listed ingredients are very dangerous and mind- altering, if ingested. The average cost for these drugs is $20-$70 for 3 grams, and has the advantage of being currently legal and undetectable in most drug test. 

Spice, sold as “herbal smoking mixture”, is very clearly marked as not for human consumption. It usually contains untested chemicals, with unknown toxicity, addiction potential, long-term effects and can cause allergic reactions. The users have no way of knowing which of the chemicals he or she is ingesting. It is highly likely that each batch is different. Labels on products such as spice or K2 usually disclose that they include “natural” psycho-active ingredients taken from a mixture of plants. Spice products consist of dried plants, but analyses show that the active ingredients are cannabinoid compounds, this is also known as “synthetic” or “designer.” This is untrue and is false advertisement.

Spice products are popular among teens and young adults; in 2012, almost twice as many young men in the 12th grade report past year use than young woman in the 12th grade.

The misconceptions that Spice products are “natural” and therefore harmless and that they do not show up on most drug test are probable factors to their widespread use.

The fact is that these products are not safe

Dangers & Risk Factors of Spice

Users report greater:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Paranoia
  • Discomfort
  • Confusion
  • Desire for the feeling to end
  • Short-term memory
  • Lack motivation
  • Loss of reasoning ability
  • Lack of emotional stability
  • Difficulty learning
  • Loss of stamina

What are “Bath Salts”?

When teens or young adults refer to “bath salts” as a drug they use, they are not talking about “calgon take me away” or any other bathing product. They are talking about a designer drug – a designer drug that has recently become available.

This drug is very powerful and causes severe side effects. This drug contains a variety of chemicals and therefor is hard to pick just one to focus on. It is highly likely that MDPV (methylenediozy pyrovalerone, but it could also contain mephedrone, a Khat derivative.) They are chemically similar to amphetamines such as meth and or ecstasy. Bath salts look like crystal powder and are sold in small bags. Names include Aura, Zues, Bliss, Ocean, white lightening, vanilla sky and many others.

What are the signs/symptoms of “bath salts” use?

  • Severe paranoia
  • Violent behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Chest pain
  • Seizures
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Self-mutilation

Long Term Effects of Bath Salt Use May Include

  • Kidney failure
  • Liver failure
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Long term mental illness
  • Self-mutilation
  • Death

Users often describe the high as “horrible” and report seeing demons, aliens, or monsters. These symptoms can last for 2 or 3 days. When symptoms do not improve, some require long term psychiatric services.

Why Aren’t These Drugs Illegal?

Unfortunately, the people who make these drugs easily sidestep the regulations that each state makes almost as fast as they make them. They adapt by replacing the banned synthetic cannabinoid or carthinone with a newer combo of chemicals that is not yet known to authorities. The more that they modify these products, the more of a risk it poses to users, who are unaware of the reactions that these unknown chemicals may cause.

Warning the following video contain explicit language (that is offensive and inappropriate) and graphic video of abusers getting high and being high on synthetic drugs.

These video and the warnings above were suggestions from  Det. Sgt. Jason J. Grellner Missouri Officers Association Past President -as material for parents looking for information about the effects of synthetic drugs.

For more information about treatment for synthetic drug abuse/ addiction or for a free assessment please contact The Crossroads Program at 636-532-9991 for St. Louis area 573-256-8020 for the Columbia area and 816-941-4000 for the Kansas City area.