How Dangerous Are Synthetic Drugs: Spice, Bath Salts, Mephedrone

Dangers of Synthetic Drugs

When people hear the words, “drug abuse,” they usually think of someone getting high an illegal drug bought in a dark alley. But thousands of people abuse synthetic drugs found in gas stations or purchased online or in specialty stores. In 2012, calls to poison control centers for synthetic drugs peaked. Thousands of people were admitted to the ER for adverse effects related to synthetic drugs and fake marijuana such as Spice, bath salts, and mephedrone. Although these drugs can still be purchased and abused, rates of synthetic drug use have gone down since their peak in the early 2010s. But how dangerous are synthetic drugs, and are they legal or not?

What are synthetic drugs?

A synthetic drug isn’t necessarily a substance that’s designed to get the user high. Synthetic drugs are drugs that are created using chemical compounds and human-made materials. Prescription medications can be considered synthetic drugs. But for the sake of this article, synthetic drugs will be party and club drugs whose sole purpose is to induce euphoria and create an altered physical and mental state of mind. The most common synthetic drugs that people use to get high are Spice or K2, which is synthetic marijuana. Bath salts and mephedrone are also popular options.

Who makes synthetic drugs?

In most cases, synthetic drugs are produced illegally in hidden labs, and then distributed throughout black market channels across the globe. The purpose of synthetic drugs is to enhance the effects of natural, illegal drugs, such as cocaine or cannabis. Artificial drug shipments seized by U.S. authorities are often traced to overseas locations in Eastern Europe or Asia.

Are synthetic drugs legal?

This is where things can get murky. Technically, synthetic drugs are not legal, so why are they sold in shops and gas stations? The problem is the way drugs are regulated in the U.S. Authorities know that synthetic drugs are often addictive and pose a severe threat to consumers’ health and well-being. But manufacturers of synthetic drugs can change the molecular structure of the substance quickly, helping them evade detection and prosecution.

For example, say a synthetic drug has a molecular structure of A, B, and C compounds. These compounds are illegal, and drug enforcement agencies are given the go-ahead to seize these drugs and prosecute the manufacturers and sellers of the material. Manufacturers will wise up, and start making the drugs with slightly different chemical compounds – A, B, and C2. Authorities aren’t aware of this particular substance, and technically, this new chemical makeup isn’t illegal to sell in stores. So, synthetic drugs are stocked and sold until the authorities find out and the process starts all over again. It is via this process of evasion and chemical re-engineering that illegal manufacturers can circumvent existing laws, or exploit legal loopholes.

The demand for synthetic drugs is also difficult for authorities to diminish. Many of these substances are labeled and marketed as “natural” alternatives, and consumers can mistake them for harmless substances. Also, people who are addicted to drugs may opt for a synthetic option to evade detection on drug tests. These types of elements aren’t easily detected with the average employer drug test.

What are the different types of synthetic drugs?

Usually, synthetic drugs are broken down into two separate categories, depending on their chemical makeup:


Stimulant synthetic, designer drugs are called Bath Salts and mephedrone, but they aren’t really for bathing. Bath salts such as Epsom salt that are water-soluble are a legitimate, natural mineral substance for soaking and soothing tired muscles, and they won’t get a person high. But Bath Salts that are derived from cathinone are dangerous substances designed to get a person high. They look like mineral soak bath salts and are often marketed similarly to avoid detection from authorities. People usually buy these drugs from head shops, gas stations, and on the internet where they are labeled as “not for human consumption” to evade FDA oversight and regulation.

The type of high these drugs produce is similar to cocaine, ecstasy, or meth. Users crush the Bath Salts, snort them, or inhale them. Chemically soaking a towel in Bath Salts and then holding it to the face to inhale is called “huffing” and is another popular way that people get high on these drugs. Bath Salts are also called Ivory, Fertilizer, Mad Cow, and Cloud 9.


Synthetic cannabinoids, or synthetic marijuana, are called K2 or Spice. These drugs are designed to mimic the effects of THC in cannabis. Spice is labeled in stores as “not for human consumption,” and marketed as incense so sellers can avoid FDA and law enforcement scrutiny. The drugs are made out of shredded plant material, usually herbs, and then sprayed down with synthetic compounds that mimic THC. Marketed as “natural,” some consumers may mistakenly believe that Spice or K2 is a legitimate and healthy alternative to medical marijuana or CBD, but that’s not the case. Spice is far more dangerous than marijuana or CBD and has even killed people. The effects of synthetic cannabinoids are unpredictable, and manufacturers are not subject to guidelines and safety standards that medical marijuana and CBD manufacturers must follow for consumer safety.

What are the desired effects people have for Spice or K2?

People may think that Spice or K2 can help them alleviate anxiety, depression, nausea, and chronic pain symptoms that CBD and medical marijuana can effectively treat. Users may try synthetic cannabinoids to avoid detection on an employer drug test. But the issue is, taking these drugs is a gamble. When it comes to alleviating anxiety and depression symptoms especially, THC-free CBD oil is one of the most effective and safe options.

What are the short and long-term side effects of using synthetic cannabinoids?

The majority of surveyed synthetic cannabinoid users experience extreme paranoia, anxiety, and mild hallucinations. Users often report physical effects that include the following symptoms:

  • Racing heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Violent behavior and agitation

Spice can also increase the risk of suicidal behavior. For someone already struggling with depression, taking Spice is a considerable risk. Studies have found that Spice can restrict necessary blood flow to the heart, which can increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke, and overdose deaths. People who regularly abuse Spice or synthetic drugs can also become addicted, and experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit without outside medical intervention. In contrast, truly natural CBD oil is not an addictive substance, and it won’t cause an overdose or give someone unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it.

One of the most significant issues with synthetic drugs is that they are relatively new compounds, and there isn’t much data on the long-term effects of them. What researchers have found is that batches of Spice and other synthetic drugs vary widely from one batch to the next, making their results incredibly unpredictable and dangerous. The synthetic THC in Spice is also stronger than natural THC, binding to the same receptors in the brain that THC binds to, but again, the issue is a matter of unpredictability and strength. Continuous changes in the chemical makeup of Spice also add an element of unnecessary risk.

Is it possible to overdose on Spice?

Yes, it is possible to overdose on Spice. Thousands of people enter ER emergency rooms every year for synthetic drug overdoses. Symptoms of an overdose include nausea and vomiting, tachycardia, tremors, and seizures.

What can someone do if they are struggling with an addiction to drugs?

Drug addiction is a chronic illness that requires ongoing, customized care and treatment. Many people recovering from addiction need a combination of talk therapy, medical detox, and inpatient and outpatient rehab programs. Treatment needs to be different for everyone, and what works for one patient may not be suitable for another patient. For those who are struggling with substance abuse issues, it’s imperative that they reach out to a qualified, experienced rehabilitation center for treatment. About half of all people who enter rehab for substance abuse are self-medicating a mental health issue. Drug rehab centers are often equipped to address these underlying, comorbid issues.

Is CBD a good alternative to Spice for treating mental health issues?

Spice is a terrible thing to use to address mental health disorder symptoms. The chemical makeup and the effects of the substance are not well known and unpredictable. There aren’t any studies in existence that suggest that Spice has any therapeutic effects. CBD, on the other hand, has been studied in several reputable, preclinical trials for its effectiveness at addressing specific mental health disorder symptoms. CBD oil can alleviate anxiety and depression. People who report sleep issues, which are common in mental health disorders, can find relief with natural, reputable CBD oil.

THC, which is known to increase anxiety, can be isolated from CBD oil, and people can use CBD products that are free of THC. For people who have to get drug tested for work, CBD is a safe and effective alternative to both medical marijuana, and potentially dangerous Spice and other synthetic drugs.