Teens finding new forms of drug abuse

What you need to know about ‘bath salts,’ fake marijuana and alarming marketing

Just when you think you have a handle on all the innovative ways kids find to mess with their brain chemistry, a new crop of chemicals emerges. It’s scary stuff because these items are often cheaply and readily available online and at head shops, convenience stores and gas stations.

What’s even more frightening is that there has been a drastic increase in ER visits across the country associated with using the latest substances. Reported symptoms include labored breathing, rapid heartbeat, extreme paranoia, delusions and seizures. Symptoms can last for days and are so horrific that they have led to fatalities, including suicide.

Some newer hazards include: Synthetic marijuana, or K2 “K2 is a synthetic chemical that works on the brain’s cannabinoid receptor sites and has a marijuana-like effect,” says Richard Heyman, MD, a pediatrician affiliated with Cincinnati Children’s who practices at Suburban Pediatrics Associates in Cincinnati’s. These products are composed of dried plant material sprayed with toxic chemicals. Also known as “fake marijuana” or “herbal incense,” K2 comes in packages marketed with such labels as “Spice,” “Mr. Nice Guy” and “Mystic Monkey.” While the Drug Enforcement Administration has banned a handful of these products, there are more than 200 synthetic cannabinoids on the market - legal, for now, in Ohio and readily available over the internet.

Bath salts and plant food: These are no ordinary bath salts. While these products are marketed as bath salts, plant food, insect repellant or incense, they’re really a synthetic form of cocaine. One brand, “Molly’s Plant Food,” is misleadingly sold as an energy pill. Side effects include increased heart rate, nosebleeds, hallucinations, seizures and kidney failure. With labels including “Purple Wave” and “Bliss,” they are crystallized chemicals that are being swallowed, snorted or smoked.

Relaxation brownies: Packaged in colorful wrappers featuring a brownie-shaped cartoon character on the front, these look like run-of-the-mill snack cakes, but they’re not. Marketed as “Lazy Cakes,” these brownie squares contain almost 8 milligrams of melatonin, a dietary supplement used to induce sleep. Not only can they impair the central nervous system, but children who eat these cakes could become groggy.

Worth repeating: “Prescription drug abuse is clearly the fastest growing abuse trend, primarily opiates,” says Earl Siegel, PharmD, director of Cincinnati Children’s Drug and Poison Information Center. Prescription medications should not be stored where they are easily available to children or their visitors. Many household products such as deodorants, hair sprays and computer air dusters also continue to hold the potential for abuse.