The effects from illicit drugs — like methamphetamine, crack cocaine or ecstasy?
Actually, no. They’re the consequence of using legal substances that can be bought and sold in any convenience store or smoke shop in Georgia, and teenagers in Whitfield and Murray counties know they’re available and are taking them.
They’re also ending up sick and in emergency rooms.
“Synthetic marijuana,” a substance that shares the fibrous appearance of the mood-enhancing plant and can cause some of the same psychoactive effects, is marketed as a legal alternative to pot. But kids can buy it since it’s not classified as a drug or as tobacco, said Detective Jim Whitehead of the Chatsworth Police Department.
“One kid told me he wouldn’t try it again, it was not what he expected,” he said. “A regular marijuana user I talked to who tried it said he’d stick with regular pot. There’s not one person I’ve talked to who said they enjoyed synthetic marijuana.”
Early last month Chatsworth Police officers responded to a call from a mother whose son was in the emergency room at Murray Medical Center. The teen told officers he had “smoked something” that caused him to be brought to the hospital, according to an incident report.
When the officers tracked down the “green leafy substance” at the home of the boy’s friend, the friend told officers he had bought the substance at a smoke shop in Chatsworth. The product was called “Ace of Spades,” according to the report. “Synthetic marijuana” is also sold as “K-2,” “Kush,” “Dragon Eye,” “Zombie Killer,” “Cloud 10” and “Cloud 13,” Whitehead pointed out.
“These substances can be sold right next to the counter, and the average person looks right over it,” he said. “There are dozens of brand names.”
Whitehead said the Georgia General Assembly banned the K-2 substance last year, which it described as “chemically-treated spices which mimic the effects of marijuana when smoked.” But the makers of K-2 simply dropped the banned substances from their ingredient list and used others that weren’t banned, he said.
“The company just revamped the chemical make-up,” said Whitehead. “It was a good effort by the state (Legislature), but it didn’t help at all.”
State Rep. Roger Williams, R-Dalton, seemed exasperated when contacted about the products.
“It’s amazing what we’ve gone through trying to identify some of this stuff,” he said. “It’s very time consuming. Will (legislation) come up again? If it does, we are certainly going to follow up on it.”
Dalton Police Department spokesman Bruce Frazier said officers have encountered people using “synthetic marijuana” on the street.
“It’s one of those things where the forerunner (of synthetic pot) they’ve made illegal, but now the stuff being sold is a compound the companies are using that is not banned by the law,” he said. “(Officers) have to send it to the (state crime) lab to determine which compounds are being used, whether they’re legal or not. It’s easy to distinguish from regular marijuana by appearance and smell.”
Sgt. Paul Woods, who heads up the drug unit at the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office, said parents calling with complaints are about the extent of the department’s involvement with “synthetic marijuana.”
“We’re hearing more and more from parents saying their kids are telling them it’s legal,” he said. “One of the parents said their child got sick from using it.”
Whitehead said he has been in touch with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
“I talked to the ATF last week and asked them ‘What can we do?’” he said. “They pointed out that it’s not tobacco and doesn’t fall under their jurisdiction. Until it’s illegal, there’s not much we can do.”
Whitehead said some stores have voluntarily put “18 and over only” labels on the fake products.
Certain bath salts
Another product that is making the round of pseudo-drugs is bath salts, which mimics the effects of meth.
“I’m working with the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency) to find out which brands contain the chemicals (that cause intoxication),” said Whitehead. “The brands that you find in an average pharmacy don’t contain it. One of the tobacco stores here said he wouldn’t sell the (psychoactive) bath salts. He wouldn’t name names but said some other area shops are selling it. It can also be bought off the Internet.”
Whitehead said he talked to a meth user who was trying to get off meth and had tried bath salts.
“He said the bath salts were worse,” Whitehead relayed. “They have pretty much the same symptoms as meth — hyperactivity, staying up for days, paranoia. One user said he was seeing devils and another guy said it was making holes in his brain. So you have some delusional thinking involved.”
A “Drug Alert Watch” e-newsletter distributed by the U.S. Department of Justice said the use of intoxicating bath salts is growing.
“The abuse of bath salts and similar substances appears to be increasing, especially over the past 12 months,” said the release dated in December. “These products are readily available at convenience stores, discount tobacco outlets, gas stations, pawn shops, tattoo parlors and truck stops, among other locations ... These products have been widely available in the United Kingdom for at least several years. This year, a number of overdoses have been reported in the (UK), including some deaths.”
The release said some users compared the effects of ingesting bath salts with meth.
“Until these products are illegal, there’s not much we can do about it,” said Whitehead. “Public awareness is the biggest thing we can do about it, because the school systems don’t know about it, parents don’t know about it. We had one parent here who found some in her son’s room, and when her son showed her it was legal she was OK with it. Then he had a bad episode and got sick, and she came back and wanted to know what we could do about it. It’s not illegal, but it’s a problem.
“We enforce laws, not common sense.”
A ‘bath salts’ incident
The following report was filed by a Chatsworth Police Department officer last week after a Murray County Sheriff’s Office deputy brought a 19-year-old “male subject” by the police station.
“(The deputy) stated she came out of her residence and there was a male subject standing beside her patrol car. She asked him what he was doing and he stated he had been running from law enforcement all night ... she said the subject seemed very confused and excited and could not remain still. He seemed to be having trouble with muscle control as his facial expressions would constantly change and his arms and legs were constantly moving.
“(The deputy) asked the subject where he had been during the night and he said ‘running and hiding.’ She asked him what kind of drugs he was using and he said bath salts ... and he stated he buys them in local stores ... he said he ingested the bath salts and had not slept in 10 days and needed help.
“(The subject) went on to say he typically uses methamphetamine but had switched to bath salts because he felt they were less harmful ... (but) he said the bath salts had affected his brain as he was seeing things and believed several people were trying to kill him.
“While at Murray Medical Center (the subject) stated that not only had he eaten the bath salts but he also snorted them and injected them as early as 6 a.m. that morning. (The subject) was turned over to the (hospital) staff for evaluation.”
Click here for more from the Dalton Daily Citizen