Experienced parents know that fads come and go. Something that ignites teen fever one day may fizzle into nothing a few weeks later.
But when it comes to teen drug use, trendy designer drugs can be just as dangerous as the substances we’ve been warned about for decades. Even those that quickly lose their appeal among teens do their share of damage along the way.
Here are five of the most dangerous teen drug trends you shouldn’t ignore:
Teen Drug Trend #1: Bath Salts
Bath salts hit the teen drug scene in 2010 and have since become a serious concern among law enforcement, hospitals, drug rehabs and parents. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, calls about bath salts are up from 303 in all of 2010 to 3,470 between January and June of 2011.
Bath salts are stimulants similar to meth and cocaine, but they are being sold legally under the names Vanilla Sky, Aura, Hurricane Charlie, Ivory Wave and many others. To get around the laws that would make bath salts illegal, manufacturers label them “not for human consumption” and sometimes market them as plant food or other seemingly innocuous products.
The active chemicals in bath salts are mephedrone and MDPV, but there is currently no reliable way to test for these drugs. At least 35 states have banned ingredients found in bath salts and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is considering making these drugs controlled Schedule I drugs like heroin and ecstasy, yet teens are still easily accessing these drugs.
Bath salts can make a perfectly “normal” teen psychotic – literally. Physicians throughout the country have been shocked to see their emergency rooms inundated by delusional, violent teens who are high on bath salts. Teens present with dangerously high fevers, high blood pressure, racing heartbeat and muscle agitation so severe it can lead to kidney failure. In addition to being highly addictive, these drugs can cause heart attack, seizures, muscle damage, stroke and even death.
After being treated with heavy sedatives and antipsychotics in some cases, adolescents sometimes end up in the psychiatric hospital because the bath salts made them so violent, paranoid and out of touch with reality. Even after days of being sedated, the psychosis can come back, causing some to fear that the effects of these drugs may be permanent.
Teen Drug Trend #2: Kratom
Kratom is the newest drug gaining popularity among teens in the U.S. Derived from a plant found in southeast Asia, kratom has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes in other countries. Kratom is sold in the form of leaves, powder, extract or capsules, and can be swallowed, drank as a tea or snorted as a powder.
Kratom is not controlled by the DEA and is known by the names Thom, Kakuam, Biak, Thang or Ketum. The effects of kratom vary from alertness, increased energy and weight loss (in small doses) to relaxation, dry mouth, sweating and reduced sensitivity to pain (in large doses). The drug takes effect within minutes of use, producing a mild high that typically lasts two to five hours.
Even though it is legal and readily accessible, kratom is addictive. Once addicted, teens who stop using kratom may experience withdrawal symptoms such as cold-like symptoms, depression, diarrhea and insomnia. In an effort to cope with these withdrawal symptoms or to amplify the high, teens may begin using harder drugs or mixing kratom with alcohol or other drugs.
Teen Drug Trend #3: Spice / K2
Another drug that has likely made its way into your community is Spice, also known as K2, skunk or J-dub. Spice is a blend of herbs sprayed with a potent psychotropic drug that contains synthetic cannabinoids. The drug impacts the same receptors in the brain as marijuana (hence the name “legal marijuana”), but Spice can be up to 10 times stronger than marijuana, producing a high that typically lasts one to two hours after smoking.
Spice has landed many adolescents in the emergency room. It can cause vomiting, agitation, panic attacks, hallucinations, seizures, high blood pressure, paranoia and elevated heart rate.
Despite these dangers, Spice is legally sold as “incense” or “potpourri” in head shops and on the Internet. A few states have banned Spice but teens continue to find ways to skirt the laws by purchasing the drug online. Because Spice does not show up on drug tests, many parents falsely believe that their teens are drug-free.
Teen Drug Trend #4: Salvia
Salvia is a powerful hallucinogenic herb that is being used as often as Ecstasy and even more often than LSD, according to The New York Times. The drug comes in a variety of forms, including seeds, leaves or liquid extract, and takes effect within seconds if smoked.
Salvia affects a different area of the brain than other drugs such as opiates or other hallucinogens. The experience is not a “high” but a sometimes disturbing altered sense of reality. Teens abuse salvia for its intense but short-lived hallucinogenic properties. Other effects include disconnectedness from reality, dizziness, a sense of being in many places at one time, and bizarre sensations of “hearing” colors and “seeing” sounds.
Salvia is not currently regulated by the DEA, though it is considered a drug of concern. A number of states have regulated Salvia, but the process is slow to catch up to the severity of the problem.
Teen Drug Trend #5: Prescription Drugs
Teen prescription drug abuse is not “new,” but is so pervasive, and so dangerous, that it merits a place in the top five teen drug trends. There are as many new abusers of painkillers as there are of marijuana, according to SAMHSA’s 2007 National Survey on Drug Use & Health (NSDUH). This means that when your teen is deciding which drug to try, they’re as likely to try prescription drugs as they are marijuana.
The most popular prescription drugs abused by teens are painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin, but a significant number of teens abuse stimulants and depressants as well. In the majority of cases, teens get prescription drugs for free from a friend or relative. Because they are legal when prescribed by a physician, teens believe prescription drugs are less dangerous and less likely to get them in trouble with parents or the law.
The consequences of teen prescription drug abuse can be as severe and life-threatening as illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine. Painkiller abuse can cause teens to stop breathing. Abuse of depressants can result in decreased heart rate, depressed breathing and seizures. Stimulant abuse has caused heart failure, high body temperature, irregular heart rate and seizures. These effects are worsened when teens take prescription drugs with alcohol or other drugs.
Every day, 2,500 youth ages 12 to 17 abuse a prescription painkiller for the first time (NSDUH, 2007). Drug use starts young – 13 is the mean age for abuse of stimulants and sedatives, and more than half of teens who have abused prescription pain relievers first tried them before age 15. Studies show that the earlier drug use begins, the more likely teens are to struggle with drug addiction in adulthood.
You Are Not Powerless
What all of these drugs have in common is that they are easy to obtain, difficult to detect and are legal in certain forms. Because there is a strong demand for these drugs, experts believe we will continue to see new variations on designer drugs in the years to come.
Talk with your teen early and often about the dangers of drugs, whether legal or illegal, and be vigilant about safeguarding your medications and setting clear expectations for your child’s behavior and attitudes around drugs. Drug trends come and go, but the one that sweeps up your teen could impact their life forever.