Legal highs and their effects on users

They cause seizures, comas and even death. Yet you can buy them online or at a gas station. You can smoke them, or swallow them.

We are talking about "legal highs."

Toxicologist Richard Clark says the new ways to abuse drugs are all legal.

Bath salts are synthetic drugs made in underground labs and marketed as household items. Last year, close to 1,000 people reported exposure to poison control centers.

Dr. Clark says, "The patients we saw with bath salts had significantly more violence, significantly more self-harm behavior."

Synthetic marijuana is another designer drug made by spraying natural herbs with synthetic chemicals to mimic the effects of marijuana. However, it is very potent and dangerous. In 2010, more than 11,000 ER visits were associated with its use.

"What we end up seeing with people with this new synthetic marijuana is violence, an occasional convulsion,” Dr. Clark adds.

You use them when you are sick, but some are taking cough syrup to get high. One study found 1-in-10 American teens abused products with DXM, an ingredient found in these meds. Taken at high doses, the drug can cause vomiting, impaired vision, memory loss, and even a coma.

Dr. Clark says, "People have Benadryl parties in lots of places in the United States."

The antihistamine can spark hallucinations in high doses, and too much could cause seizures and death.

Lawmakers have tried to make some of the ingredients in these drugs illegal.

President Obama also signed a federal law to ban bath salts.

However, experts say many of the makers and manufacturers have found ways to slightly alter the chemical makeup of their products.

This allows them to remain legal and on the shelves.

REPORT #2087

BATH SALTS: "Purple Wave," "Ivory Wave," "Vanilla Sky," and "Bliss" are among the many street names for the so-called designer drugs called bath salts. The drugs contain synthetic chemicals similar to amphetamines. Some, but not all, of the chemicals used to make them are illegal. "The presumption is that most 'bath salts' are MDPV, or methylenedioxypyrovalerone, although newer, derivatives are being made by illegal street chemists. Nobody really knows, because there has been no way to test for these substances. However, that is changing, and some tests for certain of these chemicals have been developed," Zane Horowitz, MD, an ER doctor and medical director of the Oregon Poison Center, was quoted as saying. The effects can include agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain, increased pulse, high blood pressure, and suicidal thinking/behavior. Suicidal thinking/behavior may last even after the stimulatory effects of the drugs have worn off. In July 2012, the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act made it illegal to possess, use, or distribute many of the chemicals used to make bath salts, including Mephedrone and MDPV. In all, the law covers 26 chemicals, all of them ingredients in synthetic drugs. However, drug makers will keep creating new combinations at home and in labs. (Source:
SYNTHETIC MARIJUANA: Synthetic marijuana, or synthetic cannabinoids, is marketed as a "legal high." They are designed to affect the body in a similar manner to marijuana, but aren't derived from the marijuana plant. They are called cannabimimetics and can cause dangerous health effects. Like many other illegal drugs, synthetic marijuana is not tested for safety, and users don't really know what chemicals they are putting into their bodies. They can be extremely dangerous and addictive. Because they can be purchased with no age restrictions, synthetic marijuana is very popular with young people. The harmful effects from these products were first reported in the U.S. in 2009. In 2010, an estimated 11,406 emergency department visits involved a synthetic cannabinoid product, 75 percent of these visits involved patients aged 12 to 29. In July 2012, a comprehensive national ban was enacted. (Source: and
DXM: Cough medicine abuse seems to be popular in teens. Another type of danger is posed by the sale of "pure DXM," which is the raw ingredient used by pharmaceutical companies. Pure DXM is sometimes sold in bulk over the Internet and then resold in smaller doses by dealers. For teens who are used to low doses of DXM in OTC products, raw DXM can pose a much higher risk of overdose. The risks of DXM abuse are real and can include: impaired vision, coma, rapid eye movements, impaired judgment, rapid breathing, sweating/fever, hallucinations, slurred speech, increased heart rate, etc. In 2004, the most recent data available, abuse of DXM sent more than 5,500 people to the emergency room, including children as young as 12. Some advocacy groups have proposed restrictions to tackle this problem, like age limits on the sale of products with DXM. Meanwhile, some stores have decided on their own to impose age restrictions or to keep DXM products behind the counter to discourage abuse and shoplifting. (Source:
? For More Information, Contact:

Jacqueline Carr
Director, Clinical Communications
UC San Diego Health Sciences
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RX #2087
APR '14

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