We have all seen the increase in the use of electronic vaporizers, and electronic cigarettes. You may have even heard about the research studies being done, that indicate these products are not really a safe alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes. But that is not the main subject of this article. The problem I really want to share with you, is the information I stumbled across, regarding a very scary and dangerous new trend involving these electronic vaporizers. I was doing some research, about commonly abused drugs, for a set of drug fact pages that I am working on. I started finding reports that some dangerous drugs were making a comeback in new forms. As I dug deeper, I realized how serious the problem is. As a parent of teenagers, I found the information concerning, because this new trend is the most popular with young people.
You may have heard about the synthetic drugs that caught our attention a few years ago. For example, bath salts (a stimulant type drug similar to cocaine) and spice/K2 (also known as “fake weed”). These drugs were quite commonly being sold in many gas stations, convenience stores, and “head shops”. Many people, especially young people, started experimenting with these new synthetic drugs. The drugs were easier for them to access, and didn’t show up on drug tests, at that time. In addition, people have a tendency to believe that if something is sold in a store, it must be safe. However, information started to circulate, about the horrible effects of these drugs, that some people were experiencing. Thankfully, many young people, and attentive parents, paid attention. While the drugs are still around, the general public seems a bit more aware of the dangers.
YouTube videos began surfacing, showing frightening scenes of people who were high on these drugs, acting possessed, or engaging in life threatening activities. I also recall a very horrific news story, that enlightened many of us to the dangers, because of the headlines the story made. You may remember the incident that happened in Miami, in which a man said to be using one of these drugs (bath salts), literally gnawed the face off of a 65 year old homeless man, before being shot dead by the police. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE CNN NEWS CLIP
So it seemed that the public had started to become aware of the terms “bath salts” and “Spice/K2”, and word was getting out about the scary effects associated with their use. The DEA also took notice, and started working hard, to combat the problem. This is an ongoing battle for two reasons: First, the products indicate on the label “not for human consumption”, which allows them to bypass FDA regulations, that are put in place to keep products that humans consume safe. Secondly, the manufacturer’s of these drugs continue to alter the chemicals being used in their products, as a way to avoid selling the chemicals that are banned by the Drug Enforcement Agency. It’s a vicious cycle, the DEA tries to keep these drugs illegal, by banning the chemicals used to make the drugs. At the same time the drug manufacturer’s work just as hard to come up with new chemicals, to use in their products, that have not yet been banned. It’s an ongoing battle to keep these synthetic drugs illegal. Regardless, public awareness about the use of synthetic cannabinoids (aka Spice/K2), had increased. Until recently!
The manufactures of these nefarious drugs, have taken advantage of the popular vaping trend, to cleverly disguise, and reinvent the synthetic cannabinoids in a new form. The drug most commonly known as Spice/K2, is now becoming increasingly popular again, under the product names of “liquid incense” or “herbal liquids”. These products are synthetic cannabinoids designed for use in electronic vaporizing devices. Many of the young people who are trying it, who had already learned about the dangers of Spice/K2, are clueless about what is actually in the product. They are unaware, because it is now marketed differently, as a liquid for use in electronic vaping devices, and comes in a huge variety of names designed to attract young people.
It doesn’t help that the majority of e-liquids don’t list their ingredients on the packaging. The active chemical(s) in the herbal/liquid incense are actually a synthetic drug, made in a lab, called synthetic cannabinoids. However, do not let the name fool you, they are in no way similar to actual marijuana/cannabis. The chemicals found in synthetic cannabinoids, are very different from the active compound in real marijuana. And the active chemicals are constantly changing to get around the law. The synthetic compounds bind more strongly to certain receptors in the brain, which is what is thought to account for the more diabolical psychoactive effects of these drugs.
Some people have used the drug and not had any of the psychotic effects. Many others, however, have described horrible experiences filled with hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. A common thread among the stories told, is a feeling of something evil, sinister, and harmful. This often results in psychosis similar to a schizophrenic type disorder. The experience varies among individuals, because the chemicals in the drug are just as individualized. The chemicals vary widely between different brands, and even different batches of the same brand. So a person never really knows how the drug will affect them, each and every time they smoke it, the experience can be different.
Spice/K2 is made by spraying these synthetic cannabinoids onto cheap leaves or herbs, then they are marketed as Spice/K2, aka synthetic marijuana. The label, cleverly inserts in the product description, words such as plant food, potpourri, or incense, with a warning that says “not for human consumption”. These labels are ignored and the product is usually smoked, or made into a tea. Either way, they are consumed by humans. Liquid/herbal incense is made using these same types of chemicals, just in liquid form, and sold in bottles that look exactly like the e-liquids used in electronic cigarettes, and other vaping devices.
If you do an online search for liquid incense, you will find hundreds of companies selling this drug. I checked out some of the websites selling these so called “herbal/incense liquids”. One seller described one of their products as follows: “is one of the top rated products, it is extra potent. Try it out for a trip in space chasing UFOs. LOL” Yes, the “LOL” was actually, disgustingly, included in the description. “Chasing UFOs” seems to be a common theme in many of the product descriptions.
SIDE NOTE: I have had a difficult time determining what the term “chasing UFOs” actually means. However, I am pretty sure it has something to do with “getting high”. I did find something in the urban dictionary, a site used to define slang words, in which someone was describing an event that occurred “after a night of heavy drinking and chasing UFO’s”. So one could assume the term is related to drinking or using drugs. If anyone reading this does know what the term means, please make a comment. I would love to know the accurate meaning.
Other sellers made these claims I found scary and shocking:
- Designed for use with any personal electronic vaporizer.
- Our product is the most potent mood enhancer created.
- Offers heightened awareness.
- Stimulates your mind.
- Use sparingly, no more than one drop is needed for intense experience.
- Experience tranquilizing effects whenever you smoke it.
- Alleviates symptoms of mental disorders.
The list of alarming claims goes on and on. These claims don’t sound like the e-liquids people generally use in electronic cigarettes, and other vaping devices. In addition, all of the sellers make a note at the bottom that says “not intended for human consumption”. Yet they indicate the product is for use in personal electronic vaporizers?
There are reports all across the country about people who are having life threatening experiences when using these products. For example, there was a case in Michigan, in which a 19 year old boy reportedly overdosed using one of the popular e-liquids called “Darth Vapor”. The Sheriff in the county told the news agency, WZZM 13, that the e-liquid the young man was using in his electronic cigarette tested positive for synthetic cannabinoids. The Sheriff also indicated that this drug was becoming a growing problem in their county. The Sheriff concluded with “We’ve had four confirmed overdoses or poisonings — whichever one you want to call it — of individuals…all teenagers. It is deadly; people need to understand these will kill you” (Brenzing, 2015).
Spice Addiction Support (2017), reports that “the number of people calling our Addiction hotline is up considerably this year”. They also indicated an upward trend in people using the liquid synthetic marijuana versus smoking the leaves/herbs. They attribute this finding to a google search trend that clearly shows the number of people searching for liquid spice online has increased, while searches for the “spice” leaves and herbs has declined. The manufacturers of these drugs are now focusing on online sales, which have increased considerably since 2012 (Spice Addiction Support, 2017).
The adverse effects of synthetic cannabinoids can include high blood pressure, increased heart rate, chest pains, nosebleeds, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, agitation, delusions, hallucinations, dependence, strokes, seizures, suicidal thoughts, and death (Ford, Tai, Fantegrossi, & Prather, 2017).
As if those complications are not scary enough the Trends in Pharmacological Sciences (2017), also reports that there are serious long term adverse effects associated with using synthetic cannabinoids. For example, kidney damage, long term heart complications, psychosis, as well as withdrawal symptoms and addiction. They have also reported at least 20 known deaths linked to the use of these drugs. In the same article Prather (2017), also cautions that “the public sees anything with the marijuana label as potentially safe, but these synthetic compounds are not marijuana, … you never know what they are, and they are not safe.”
In summary, if you are thinking about experimenting with these products, please don’t. I hope this article, will at the very least, inspire you to do some serious investigation about any chemical you may be thinking about putting into your body. In addition, if you are a parent, talk to your children so they are aware of the dangers. I sat down with my own boys, and their friends, this afternoon and made sure they were educated. Remember, many young people believe that are using something safe and innocent, if it can be purchased legally, in a store or online. If they know the dangers, they will be less likely to experiment with these products. The Spice Addiction Support website also offers resources, and much more information, about this drug. The phone number to their helpline is (888) 645 3912.
As always, if you or a loved one is struggling with drug addiction, we have compiled a list of Helplines & Crisis Hotlines that may be helpful to you. Please reach out for help.
If you have experience with these drugs, your story may be helpful to others if you wish to share your story (anonymously) in the comments below. Discussion is welcomed. I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this topic.
Brenzing, B. (2015). Teen overdoses on drug through e-cigarette. Retrieved from http://www.wzzm13.com/news/local/lakeshore/teen-overdoses-on-drug-through-e-cigarette/120869691
Ford, B., Tai, S., Fantegrossi, W., & Prather, P. (2017). Synthetic pot: Not your grandfather’s marijuana. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences. (Feb, 2nd). Vol. 38, Issue 3, p.257 276. DOI: 10.1016/j.tips.2016.12.003
Spice addiction Support. (2017). Vaping spice & K2: More dangerous than smoking? Retrieved from https://spiceaddictionsupport.org/liquid-synthetic-marijuana-vaping/
I have not listed references, for the product descriptions that were referred to in the article, because I don’t wish to promote any of these products. In addition, the same exact claims listed were made on several different websites, indicating there is no individual ownership of the statements listed.