Synthetic Drugs Post Great Risk to College Students

Synthetic substances that mimic marijuana, cocaine and other illegal drugs are making users across the nation seriously ill, causing seizures and hallucinations and even killing some people.

The products are often packaged as incense or bath salts and can be obtained for as little as $10 at many head shops. As more people experiment with them, the results are becoming evident at hospitals: a sharp spike in the number of users who show up with problems ranging from labored breathing and rapid heartbeats to extreme paranoia and delusions. The symptoms can persist for days.

At the request of The Associated Press, the American Association of Poison Control Centers analyzed nationwide figures on calls related to synthetic drugs. The findings showed an alarming increase in the number of people seeking medical attention.

At least 2,700 people have fallen ill since January, compared with fewer than 3,200 cases in all of 2010. At that pace, medical emer

gencies related to synthetic drugs could go up nearly fivefold by the end of the year.

In the United States, fake marijuana was last year's big seller, marketed under brands such as "K2" or "Spice." This year, the trend is "bath salts" with names like "Purple Wave" and "Bliss."

Besides being cheap and easily obtained, they do not show up in common drug tests.

Synthetic marijuana typically involves dried plant material sprayed with one of several chemical compounds, most of which were created by a Clemson University scientist for research purposes in the 1990s. The compounds were never tested on humans.

  

It's packaged to look like pot, and users typically smoke it, but experts say the high is more comparable to cocaine or LSD.The bath salts are not water-softening products at all but crystalized chemicals that are snorted, swallowed or smoked. They contain two powerful stimulants: methylenedioxypyrovalerone (or MDPV) and mephedrone, which mimic cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine.

So far in 2011, poison control centers have received nearly 1,300 calls about synthetic pot, compared with 2,874 calls for all of last year, according to the poison control center data.

Poison calls for bath salts rose at an even greater rate. The centers took 301 calls in all of 2010, but had more than 1,400 for the first three months of 2011. Most of the calls came from doctors and nurses reporting patients in emergency rooms.