I thought I'd write some follow-up on the subjects of “bath salts” and “incense,” since they are obviously impacting so many people.
These compounds, commonly sold across the counter at convenience stores, gas stations, head shops and other such vendors, fall into the class of abusable compounds that we refer to as “designer drugs.”
Designer drugs mimic — or attempt to mimic — the action of other drugs that are either illegal or difficult to acquire due to legal requirements such as prescriptions. In some cases, they are the result of attempts to improve on the originals. Methamphetamine and Ecstasy (a derivitive) are well-known examples of such “improvements.”
It is possible to make minor modifications in the chemical formula of a drug while keeping its intoxicating characteristics. Such modifications can render the drug legal, due to its failure to be addressed by the current Federal statutes, which were written far too narrowly and are thus relatively easy to work around.
The catch, so far as we are concerned, is that phrase “attempt to mimic.” Even minor changes in a chemical formula can create major changes in the way it affects the human brain (and sometimes other parts of the body as well). Methamphetamine is a good example. The addition of one carbon atom and three oxygen atoms to the compound amphetamine, a drug commonly prescribed for problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder, results in a drug that is far more psychoactive, more addictive, and more difficult to “kick” once the user becomes hooked. While this is a good thing for drug dealers, who value repeat business, it's really hard on their customers. Meth, or Crystal Meth, is a bad trip almost from the beginning.
In the case of “incense,” (fake marijuana) and “Bath Salts,” these minor modifications have created a monster. The several compounds that were created are not only intoxicating, they are toxic, in a big way. In both cases, people have suffered extreme side effects, up to and including death and mental disturbance leading to suicide.
Until State and Federal laws are re-written in an attempt to include these “legal” modifications of controlled substances, we will continue to see more drugs of this class. Some states have already passed laws making them illegal (Florida is one), but those laws may or may not hold up in court. In the meantime, education and vigilance on the part of parents and partners is the only real defense.