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Synthetic Drug Exposures in America

What you don’t know will hurt you.

That’s the moral of the story when it comes to Spice, bath salts, and the host of synthetic drugs that have cropped up and baffled American law enforcement since the turn of the decade.

These drugs may have at one point in our recent memory been legal, but that certainly doesn’t make them safe.

Many synthetic drugs obtained on the street come bundled in rapidly changing and difficult-to-determine mixtures. This further complicates the prospect of predicting potential effects – both short and long term. Those who use synthetics are certainly not able to identify the precise components on sight, and they could end up ingesting dangerously variable doses and types of drugs.

Synthetic drug abuse can derail your life and, with the extent of their long-term effects not being well studied, could potentially have even more negative health ramifications than the drugs they are designed to mimic. Find out how below.

Though synthetics might sound safe as the legal alternatives to illicit substances, the fact is these substances are anything but. They’ve resulted in deaths, hospitalizations, and some harrowing tales of bizarre human behavior since they first became available in the U.S. Above are some of the most common names people use to describe synthetic drugs.

Synthetic cannabinoids are one of the “big two” synthetic drug types that have caused mass hospitalizations and deaths across the U.S. since they first came to the public’s attention in 2010.

You might know these substances better as “fake weed,” “Spice,” or “K2.” They were first designed as a way to study cannabinoid receptors in the brain. However, word soon got out that one could buy a package of this “not-for-human-consumption incense” at a local gas station and enjoy a legal high.

As state governments moved to outlaw the chemicals – such as JWH-018 – used to make Spice, it created a game of chemical cat-and-mouse, which eventually twisted the formula so far from the original that nobody really knows its potential effects.

Even the compounds we do know have not been around long enough to study properly, making the use of synthetic drugs a dangerous excursion into the unknown.

Synthetic Reports Across the U.S.

The above visualizations show the rise of synthetics over time. The growth of both synthetic marijuana and bath salts across the country is evident in the number of reports made in each state for the drugs. The data, from the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, analyze drugs seized in law enforcement operations across the country.

While there are roughly two times as many reports of synthetic marijuana than bath salts, there’s a clear correlation between the two maps: The South and Midwest are the most affected by synthetics, according to the data.

The use of Spice in the United States is getting worse. As the chemical composition continues to change, newer formulas are causing a health crisis; new batches of the drug are causing emergencies at alarming rates. From March to April 2015 alone, the number of Spice-related medical emergencies jumped from 269 to 1,512 nationally.

What is behind this surge in exposures? Authorities point to a new formula, MAB-CHMINACA; they believe it’s to blame for the explosion of Spice-related emergencies – which comes back to the larger point about this synthetic. In order to skirt the law, the formulas must continually evolve. The chemical blend is now so convoluted, people could literally be smoking poison.

While consuming synthetic substances, for the time being, might place you at low risk of legal repercussions, the same cannot be said of your health. Abusing bath salts, Spice, and other synthetics is a gamble that no one should take. If you find yourself unable to quit or curtail problematic use of synthetic drugs or other substances, despite their negative impact on your life and the potential prospect of severe health consequences, drug treatment programs may be the answer. Call 1-855-398-0959 to speak with a treatment support specialist about your recovery options today.

The graph above shows the number of reports of the various synthetic cannabinoids that were discovered in state and local forensic laboratory reports across the country. After its rise in popularity, just five years ago, JWH-018, which is considered the original active chemical in Spice, now only represents a sliver of all Spice found in the United States. This demonstrates the ever-changing nature of these substances and highlights the dangers.

The South was hit hard by Spice in the early half of 2014. Looking at the data, we can see that the region more than doubled the number of reports from the region with the second-highest number of reports of synthetic marijuana.

AB-FUBINACA was one of the most common blends across the country, as was XLR11, with the latter being the most popular. We saw the highest concentrations of Spice reports in the South, where there were 2,888 reports of XLR11 found within synthetic marijuana samples submitted to state and local forensic laboratories across the U.S. In the ever-changing world of synthetics, there’s undoubtedly another chemical that will rise as a threat to the health and safety of those seeking to experiment.

The Dangers of Spice

We wanted to take a look at not just raw data but the real stories of Spice use and how it affects people. Here, we weren’t looking for numbers. We were looking for names, actions, and behavior. We manually combed through thousands of news stories across the country, searching for stories of Spice users. What we found was alarming.

This is the human cost of synthetics. What effects do drugs such as Spice and bath salts have not only on our bodies but our lives? We examined news stories dating back to 2010 to see what we could learn about these two substances. This map is hardly complete and merely a glimpse into the dangerous world of synthetic drug use.

Newsflash: Spice stories are never pretty.

Side effects from Spice can include paranoia, hallucinations, and psychosis. These side effects may be responsible for some of the harmful behavior we saw when we looked at Spice-related incidents around the country.

Authorities have speculated Spice was involved in several murders throughout the nation.

Though authorities were unable to prove Spice was directly related to a father who murdered his five children in South Carolina, they did note they found a Spice packet in his car.

And though no one knows for sure whether or not Spice was in his system when an unnamed teenage boy plunged a knife into the body of his sleeping friend, Jasmine Tully, it certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise if the toxic chemicals in his brain were the reason he “felt the urge to hurt someone.”

When the signs and symptoms of psychosis are involved, dangerous and hard-to-predict behaviors can result.

Spice was certainly involved in the suicide of David Rozga, an Iowa teen who committed suicide after a Spice freakout. After smoking, his friends reported that he said he was going to hell, said he was going home, and then took his own life.

And a hit of Spice was undoubtedly the reason Connor Eckhardt, a California teen, fell into a coma from which he never awoke.

Bath salts and synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice can cause the user to experience a number of frightening psychological changes, potentially eliciting erratic behavior – posing dangers to oneself and those around them. Don’t place yourself and others in these situations – Seeking recovery from synthetic drug abuse can take you and those close to you out of harm’s way; call , and speak confidentially with a compassionate treatment support representative about substance abuse rehabilitation options.

The Dangers of Bath Salts

Like Spice, the results of bath salts use are ugly. Bath salts are intended to mimic the effects of amphetamines, but they can also cause hallucinations that prompt people to act in barbaric and unpredictable ways. Even though they were found to not be a factor in the infamous 2012 Miami face-eating attack, it’s no surprise they were suspected. Bath salts were also speculated as the catalyst in another cannibalistic attack later that year in Louisiana.

Aside from these horrific outbursts, it’s extremely likely that bath salts were involved in some other bizarre cases. One man, under the influence of this dangerous synthetic, began biting a police car. Similar to an incident we saw where a man on Spice killed and ate his family dog, a woman stabbed her family’s dog while on bath salts, thinking the animal had been possessed by a demon. A third man began stabbing and cutting himself with a scalpel in front of a 3-year-old child while high on bath salts.

The hallucinations and delirious behavior these drugs can cause arouse much more than just intrigue from the media; people can overdose and die or commit violent crimes, including murder.

“Legal” High, Deadly Consequences

By falling outside of clear-cut legal definitions and, in some cases, with vaguely botanical nomenclature such as “herbal” and “Spice,” synthetic drugs may seem safe to some people. However, every piece of evidence points to the conclusion that these synthetic alternatives have proven to be more dangerous than their more traditionally abused illicit counterparts.

Spice and bath salts aren’t the only synthetics out there. A Russian synthetic heroin called Krokodil has been known to have the horrific side effect of rotting people’s flesh12, and it’s only the beginning for other synthetics such as “N-Bomb” or “Smiles.”

With so little knowledge of what these drugs are or what these drugs can do, the results are unpredictable, dangerous, and sometimes fatal for the users or the people around them.

Synthetics have taken lives and hurt people as quickly as they have shown up on the drug landscape. With creative branding and packaging and ever-changing formulations that may skirt legal reproach, synthetic drugs can present an enticing alternative to those making misguided attempts to find a safer, “natural” or “legal” high.

If you are concerned that either you or a loved one may be struggling with drug addiction – either with synthetic drugs or their illicit counterparts – call  today to speak with a caring treatment support specialist about ways to embark upon a path to recovery.



We analyzed reports and evidence of designer drug exposures across the U.S. to determine when and where designer drugs are affecting Americans the most. Further, we combed through Google News to compile a detailed list of the extreme designer drug reports, hospitalizations, deaths, strange behavior, and other negative consequences related to synthetic drugs by isolating the terms “Spice,” “K2,” and “synthetic marijuana.” These reports were sorted by city and state to determine which locations these reports occurred in. The same process was used while locating news articles on “bath salts.” A list of these news articles can be found here.

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