Fake drugs, real problems: Spice, Bath Salts & 2C-E

In December, we reported on the DEA’s ban on five chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana, more commonly known as “spice.” Since then, more than 20 states have independently outlawed synthetic cannabinoid chemicals or moved to take them off the shelves. But synthetic marijuana is still readily available — its manufacturers staying a step ahead of the law through the development of new formulas mere molecules apart from the illegal ones.

Now there is a new synthetic doppelganger growing in popularity: “synthetic cocaine” sold under the guise of bath salts. (If you haven’t heard of it, watch this Today Show story). The effects of this new designer drug, made with chemicals like methylenedioxypyrovalerone, have been compared in the media to those of cocaine, MDMA, and even LSD. Whatever the high may be, the American Poison Control Center says bath salts have resulted in 1,511 trips to the emergency room this year. And the horror stories in the media connected to the chemical are mounting: Last month a 22-year-old Rutgers University student was allegedly beaten to death by her bath-salt-snorting boyfriend. Weeks earlier, authorities in Kentucky said a young woman driving on a highway after using bath salts became convinced her 2-year-old was a demon. She allegedly pulled over, dropped the child on his head, and walked away carrying her 5-year-old. In January, Neil Brown of Fulton, Missouri, slit his face and stomach with a hunting knife after allegedly taking bath salts.

Despite the stories about the dangers of synthetic cannabis and cocaine and the attempts to outlaw some of them, these drug imposters aren’t difficult to find, as I discovered after just five minutes of telephone calls to smoke shops in my area. I called a dozen smoke shops in the Phoenix area asking if they carried bath salts and spice, which banned the primary spice chemicals earlier this year. Only one shop said no, and the clerk referred me to another shop; another said yes and corrected me. “Um, herbal incense, you mean,” the guy on the phone said.

Another synthetic drug called 2C-E, has been garnering attention after a mass overdose at a party in Minnesota that led to one death. On March 16, 19-year-old Trevor Robinson died in Minneapolis after overdosing at the party; ten others at the party went to the emergency room after using the chemical. Reportedly similar to LSD and psychedelic mushrooms, 2C-E is a synthetic hallucinogen developed more than 30 years ago by DEA licensed psychopharmacologist, Alexander Shulgin. Like other designer drugs when they first hit the market, 2C-E is not a controlled substance in the U.S. and, like the others, synthetics with similar chemical structures are also legal and available online. Minnesota legislators are weighing a ban on the chemical.

So why the sudden shift to designer drugs? Are harsh penalties nudging thousands to try “legal” alternatives? Are we just bored of getting high au naturel? According to a report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime last year, global drug use is shifting towards synthetic drugs as demand for coke and heroin declines in developed countries and rises in the developing world. This is in large part due to Obama’s Afghan counterinsurgency strategy, coca eradication efforts in Colombia, and a fungus outbreak affecting the source of 89 percent of the world’s opium. Read more here.

The chemical synthetics may be more dangerous than the illicit drugs they replicate — especially in the case of chemical-drenched spice over naturally-grown marijuana. But is banning these chemicals the answer? The Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates legalizing marijuana and ending the drug war, says banning “spice” and other synthetic drugs just creates an illegal market for those chemicals as well. ”When policymakers outlaw a drug, they give up all control over it,” Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told USA Today. “Instead of handing Spice and other drugs over to organized crime to make and distribute, it would be better to regulate the drugs to prohibit young people from getting access.”

What do you think?

-David Robles with AJC

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  • Andrew Nomansky

    April 14th, 2011


    That’s really horrible that somebody died taking 2C-E. One person.

    How many people die because of tobacco and alcohol?

    That aside, that 2C-E was snorted like cocaine, and with an ORAL dose of 10-20mg, they overdosed by a factor of at LEAST ten, NASALLY.

    If you snorted caffeine like that you’d die too!

    This is a problem where those kids thought it was cocaine and it was “okay” to snort in lines, and they were wrong.

    If I bring some Caffeine to a party and people snort it and die because they’re being stupid, should we ban that too?

  • evacassidy

    April 15th, 2011

    You’re absolutely right. Ban and lose all control. Regulate and you have a much better shot at keeping it out of the hands of kids. We sell herbal incense and I would never sell bath salts nor would I sell any incense to anyone under 21…just like alcohol. If this were really about keeping kids safe, then lawmakers should regulate just like alcohol.

  • Ed

    April 15th, 2011

    Prohibition continues to harm and kill our youth. Cannabis has never killed anyone. Prohibition is the gateway to big government, fiscal recklessness, crime and corruption. Make cannabis legal and fake cannabis goes away.

    This deadly drug was developed BY THE DEA. Yet, no accountability and people continue to believe the DEA is protecting us. Only in the Fascist States of America. Protect our children and end prohibition.

  • goldstein

    April 19th, 2011

    A large body of anecdotal evidence suggests that 2C-E is, like many of the psychedelic phenethylamines and tryptamines known to us today, rather safe when used in a responsible manner.

    That is, properly weighed on a balance that is accurate to the nearest milligram AND dosed out properly according to the subject’s body weight (mg/kg), accounting for route of administration and the factor by which the chosen one is known to affect the drug’s potency .

    The kids who recently had “issues” with this chemical (if it actually was 2c-e in the first place) were reportedly acting afool and tooting up lines willy-nilly. NOT A GOOD IDEA.

    These drugs should, like ALL substances, remain legal for anyone who wishes to ingest them however they wish to do so; aside from the fact that the government nor ANY other entity than the person who is taking the drugs has any authority to tell them they can’t, making them illegal just makes them more dangerous.

    Look at the situation now: Because of the Analog Act that was passed in the 1980s IIRC any drug that is structurally similar to a scheduled substance and is possessed with the intent to use it to achieve similar effects is considered to be AND IS PROSECUTABLE AS IF IT WERE IN THE SAME SCHEDULE AS THE ILLICIT TO WHICH IT BEARS RESEMBLANCE!

    BECAUSE of this law these chemicals exist in a legal gray area that results in (essentially FORCES) the deceptive marketing of products like “incenses” and “bath salts” and “plant food” which ARE NOT LABELED with their actual active ingredients (aside from occasional mention of Caffeine or the like, but in those cases that active is in addition to the “fun stuff”). For better or worse people are gonna give it a try anyway, if not outright abuse it (because some people will abuse ANYTHING…*cough*overeating*coughcough*).

    The system in place now ensures that there is NO safe way of doing this because of the way these products have to be marketed to operate within the confines of the ridiculous laws. It also makes it extremely difficult to know HOW MUCH you are getting in a given packaged unit, or if the dose is uniform throughout.

    Even gray market status pretty much shoots any chance of it being produced by a “legitimate” company that would have staff running QC tests on samples of each batch and retaining samples, etc., so there are also no failsafe mechanisms in place to ensure nothing is packaged incorrectly, which can (and unfortunately HAS) lead to fatal overdoses when it happens.

    Making these illegal MAKES THESE PROBLEMS WORSE.

    The drug war is WRONG, it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, and it is EXPENSIVE. It is also IMPOSSIBLE TO WIN. We MUST focus on being an INFORMED CITIZENRY. That’s the only thing that’s going to help any true drug “problem”. Well, that, and ending this ridiculous charade of a “war”.

    Oh. And one nitpick (to the poster before me): Alexander Shulgin was DEA *licensed*, not under their employ ;) To work with scheduled chemicals you have to be licensed by that goon squad. Maybe someday, when Americans reclaim their country from the maniacal control freaks who have been at the helm longer than my days on this Earth that will not be the case, and we will be free to tinker in the lab and eat any silly powder we want, because we will once again be A FREE PEOPLE.

    IT’S UP TO US!

  • Willy Freedom

    May 1st, 2011

    The saddest thing about the 2c-e overdose is the lies they tell you about it. The guy showed up to that party with 9 grams of 2c-e and with 10 people snorted half of it. Five minutes of internet research would tell you that 45mg insuffulatted is 5 times the recommended dose. They’ll never tell you that the dosages and LD-50 of many of these compounds are thouroghly researched. No, they’ll just tell you some toxic evil drug, with murky details is killing our children.

  • Judith Delgado

    May 4th, 2011

    Young people between 17 and 24 years according to statistics are the more they consume, being twice as many women as men. According to the type of drug used (hydrocodone, oxycontin or lortab are used by young people) can cause particular effects such as dryness of the mouth, dehydration, change in heart rate, seizures, etc.

    As you can see, there are many synthetic drugs employing young people as a form of entertainment and which is difficult to detect that you drugs to parents or drugs have been consumed, but actions or behaviour of the consumer will make clear that it was under their influence.

    Judith Delgado

  • ellan larson

    August 25th, 2011

    REPORT CORRECT NEWS PLEASE. it wasnt 2c-e that was the culprit for the deaths it was 2c-t-7 that was mislabeled. And anyone that makes the concious choice to use any drug without knowing about correct dosage, what chemical they are consuming and possible effects are IDIOTS and deserve the outcomes of thier unintelligent choices. Its no different then consuming prescription pills without knowing the possible side effects and then complaining about it after consumption.

  • JohnDaniels

    October 6th, 2011

    Sorry, but this whole presumption of the government is B.S. Check the news; there is something called Operation: Fast and Furious… where alot of people high up in the Obama admin are being implicated. The government (CIA) is not only behind alot of street drugs… they are supplying GUNS to the drug cartels! Look up ‘fast and furious’. Raises some questions about 9/11… doesn’t it?

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