Back to home July 2012
Synthetic Drugs Pose Real Threat
Sold as incense in malls, convenience stores and smoke shops throughout the country, “K2” and “Spice” are not intended for human consumption. But, many people smoke the concoction of synthetic marijuana, herbs and tobacco, with scary and sometimes deadly results.
“The synthetic marijuana was created in a lab at Clemson University in the 1990s,” explains Timothy Dougherty, M.D., medical director of the emergency department at Cape Coral Hospital and medical toxicologist. “The formulation was published in research papers. ‘Street chemists’ took the formula and added it to herbal mixtures and tobacco and started selling it as incense. Until recently, standard drug screens did not detect these substances, so they became very popular. Unlike marijuana, the symptoms and side effects can be very unpredictable.”
Dr. Dougherty says common complications include rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, hallucinations and intense paranoia. “The paranoia, anxiety and agitation have led to suicides,” says Dr. Dougherty. “Prompt treatment is important so the patient does not hurt himself or others.”
Treatment includes the use of benzodiazepines, or antianxiety medications, to calm the patient. Occasionally, hospitalization is required.
Another problem is the abuse of bath salts, Dr. Dougherty says. “Like K2 and Spice, these bath salts are unregulated and sold in smoke shops under the trade names ‘Ivory Wave,’ ‘Vanilla Sky,’ ‘Cloud 9’ and ‘Hurricane Charlie,’” he explains. “These are usually snorted, not smoked, but can cause similar side effects. Most of the effects from bath salts are rapid, but paranoia can last for days. The treatment for the abuse of bath salts is the same as with synthetic marijuana.”
Because the incense and bath salts are not regulated and were never meant for human consumption, the long-term effects are not known or completely understood. “We don’t know exactly what is in the packet,” Dr. Dougherty says.
“So, we don’t know what the long-term complications are or may be.” Though they are marketed and sold as harmless incense or bath salts, these substances pose real threats to the health and well-being of anyone who chooses to abuse them.
“The paranoia, anxiety and agitation have led to suicides,” says Dr. Dougherty.
Drugs & the ER
Timothy Dougherty, M.D.
Cape Coral Hospital
636 Del Prado Blvd.
Cape Coral, FL 33990