Most of us are now familiar with synthetic drugs, which have been around for the past several years. Things like K2, Spice and bath salts have, unfortunately, caught on in a big way. But, as government and law enforcement continue to crack down on these synthetic drugs, new and equally dangerous drug trends emerge, aided by websites, instructional videos on YouTube and on social media.
Addictions expert Kenneth A. Dickinson, who currently works with addiction treatment center Gaudenzia, Inc., recently conducted a seminar entitled "Emerging Drug Trends 2015: What You Need to Know" where he outlined some of these new drug scourges. Some of these emerging drug threats come from familiar places, some come from drugs that are catching the attention of a new generation of people and some of them even come from naturally occurring sources, but they’re all dangerous.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, synthetic drugs have become so popular worldwide that they’ve usurped other more traditional drugs as being the main drug threats on the landscape.
Dickinson said the problem has gotten so bad the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime started the Global SMART Program, which stands for Synthetic Monitoring: Analysis, Reporting and Trends.
Started September 2008 in Europe, the program was designed to record instances of new psychoactive substances (NPS). The program released its first report June 26, 2013, which states that there is a stability in traditional drugs, but a sharp increase in synthetic drugs and NPSs. Including ecstasy and methamphetamine, the report says, synthetic drugs are being abused worldwide more than heroin and cocaine.
These synthetic drugs, also known as designer drugs; legal highs; herbal highs; bath salts; synthetic marijuana; research chemicals; and many other names, fall outside of much international drug control because they are created by altering substances on the molecular level, meaning the new substances that are created aren’t technically covered by any laws.
Many of these compounds were first synthesized in the 1970s, but are seeing a resurgence as people rediscover them.
According to the report, from 2008 until 2012, the number of new synthetic compounds being created increased each year and it was estimated that more than one new compound would be created each week throughout 2013.
Known as “the new bath salts,” flakka is a synthetic cathinone like the relatively well-known bath salts. However, it is more powerful than bath salts. This drug can cause permanent brain and kidney damage and can be abused in a variety of ways such as smoking or snorting. It is said to mimic the effects of the much more well-known PCP and cause hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, insomnia, psychosis and potentially death.
Mostly made in China, the drug has been ravaging Florida -- becoming the No. 1 drug of abuse in some communities in that state -- but due to the fact that it’s cheap, it has quickly made its way around the entire country. Also known as “Alpha-PVP” and “gravel,” Flakka is especially worrying because it can be made into candy and accidentally be ingested by children.
Unfortunately, because flakka is such a new threat, the treatment options are limited and treatment for abuse of the drug is not well understood and often not well executed.
Although not a new drug, having been around for a long time, Molly continues to attract abusers, as it is often glorified in popular music and is often used at parties and raves. A supposedly purer form of MDMA (ecstasy), lately Molly has been found to contain cathinones, making it even more dangerous than it already is. In fact, people have died from taking Molly.
Effects include bruxism, hyperthermia, anxiety, depression and dehydration along with the general feeling of euphoria that draws people to use it.
Although alcohol is among the oldest of substances to be abused by people, they are doing it in new ways. The latest trend in alcohol consumption is inhaling it by turning the alcohol into vapor and inhaling it into the lungs where it gets absorbed instantly and gets a person intoxicated much faster than if they were to drink it. Consuming alcohol in this manner can easily lead to an overdose, as it is extremely difficult to gauge how much alcohol you are getting at one time when you turn it into vapor, plus, unlike drinking it, vaporized alcohol gets to your brain in just a few seconds.
Another new alcohol trend is Palcohol, or powdered alcohol, which is much like powdered juice crystals where you simply mix it with water and drink it. Palcohol is currently approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, but there has been much controversy surrounding the product. Many states have banned it at the state level.
Even marijuana is changing in ways that are making it a lot more potent than it ever has been. YouTube has lots of videos explaining how to make honey oil, which involves using some kind of solvent (often butane) to extract THC from marijuana in the form of an oil. Also called hash oil or budder among other names, it is much more potent than marijuana and can be either smoked, used in a vaporizer or used in consumable products.
Honey oil can be up to 85% THC, Dickinson said, and there have been reports of people being high for an entire day after they’ve ingested it. There is not only a danger in people using this drug, but also in trying to manufacture it, as the process uses highly flammable materials.
Using the same extraction method as for the oil, a person can take the marijuana extract past the point of being an oil and process it until it becomes an extremely potent substance that resembles ear wax.
Using either the oil or this earwax marijuana, people perform something called a “Dab” where they heat some kind of element, whether it be metal or glass, and touch the oil or earwax marijuana to it, releasing the smoke, which they inhale.
Earwax can also be used in a vaporizer and is potent enough to produce a hallucinogenic high.
Another old substance that is emerging as a new trend in the United States, kratom is a plant-based drug that people chew for its effects. The plant contains Mitragynine, an indole alkaloid, that acts on the body’s opioid receptors.
Oddly, kratom seems to act as a stimulant at small doses and a sedative at higher doses. The onset of effects occur in five to 10 minutes and last several hours. Short term side effects include dry mouth, increased or decreased urination, loss of appetite and nausea/vomiting. The long term side effects can include anorexia/weight loss, depression and addiction.
Some labs have developed tests for detecting kratom usage. Currently, Tennessee is the only place where kratom is illegal in the US.
This drug is one of the synthetics that Dickinson referenced that has been around for a few decades. It’s a synthetic opioid about 50 to 100 times as potent as heroin and has had a history of being used for drug abuse since the 1970s.
Fentanyl’s recent rise in usage stems from more and more rural residents of the US abusing synthetic prescription opioids. Now that governments are addressing the prescription drug abuse epidemic and making it more difficult to abuse prescription drugs, people are increasingly turning to heroin. But, Dickinson said, the Mexican drug cartels that supply the heroin to the US have noted that in order to make heroin appealing to people who are used to abusing synthetic prescription opioids, they had to add a synthetic compound to the heroin supply to give it an extra kick.
And that is where the Fentanyl comes in. The drug cartels are now adding Fentanyl to their heroin supply so it appeals to people who are already used to abusing synthetic opioids via prescription drugs. Fentanyl generally causes overdose deaths in clusters and Fentanyl-laced heroin is causing fatalities and overdoses in the US now.
The newest drug on this list, Zohydro, which was only recently developed and approved, is a synthetic opioid that contains Hydrocodone and has a sustained release. It is meant for patients whose pain is severe enough that it requires around-the-clock pain management. Its short and long-term effects are the same as other opioids.
Between drugs that are making a resurgence, new ways of processing or ingesting well-known drugs, and brand new drugs making their way onto the market, substance abuse continues to be a serious and ever-evolving problem. Dickinson encourages everyone to stay abreast of new drug trends that are happening in their area and across the country to better know what the current dangers are.