What are K2 & Bath Salts?

Drugs known as “K2” and “bath salts” are synthetic substances- meaning that they are human-made products, designed to mimic the mind-altering qualities of other drugs. These and other synthetic drugs are considered “new psychoactive substances” (NPS) because they are unregulated and frequently re-enter the market with slight changes to their chemical formulas, in order to sidestep laws. Though the drugs’ packaging states the products are not intended for human consumption, their design, labeling, and marketing clearly allude to the products being smoked and inhaled as a drug.

One reason that synthetic drugs are extremely dangerous is that buyers don’t know what chemicals they are ingesting. Individual products can contain a vast range of different chemical formulations and potencies, some of which can be two to 500 times stronger than THC (a psychoactive chemical found marijuana).

It is also important to note that there is no standard formulation for these drugs. The composition of chemicals that is sold in one packet may be completely different than what is sold in an identical packet.

It is especially troubling that the long-term effects of these drugs are unknown because the drugs have only been used widely within the past decade. We don’t know what the future will hold or exactly how people will be affected long term.

Based on their chemical make-up, these drugs are commonly divided into two categories:

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Popularly known as K2 or Spice, cannabinoids are chemically formulated versions of synthetic marijuana that consist of lab-manufactured THC.

K2 or “Spice” is a mixture of herbs and spices that is typically sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredients in marijuana. The most common ways to use synthetic cannabinoids are to smoke the dried plant material or brew the product as a tea. When available as a liquid, users can also inhale the product through an electronic cigarette (“vape”) device. These products are commonly purchased in head shops, tobacco shops, various retail outlets, and over the Internet and marketed as “incense” or “fake weed.” Because the chemical composition of many synthetic cannabinoid products is unknown and may change from batch to batch, these products are likely to contain substances that cause dramatically different effects than the user might expect. Purchasing over the Internet can be especially dangerous, because it is not usually known where the products come from or what amount of chemical is on the organic material.

Effects of Use and What to Look For

The physical signs of use are very troubling. You may notice increased agitation, profuse sweating, pale skin or vomiting. But what may be of the greatest concern is the loss of physical control – a kind of brain-body disconnect. This is where you may see seizures, a lack of pain response or uncontrolled/spastic body movements.

Looking at the effects another way, parents should know that the onset of this drug is fairly quick, and – depending on a number of factors – the length of the high can last from one to eight hours.

The paranoia that is associated with K2/Spice is closer to the psychological reaction to PCP or angel dust than to the paranoia associated with marijuana.

One of the most frightening factors is that users may experience dysphoria. The best way to explain dysphoria is that it is the opposite of euphoria.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, calls for synthetic cannabinoid exposures nationwide have declined, with 1,992 calls in 2018 (down from a peak of 6,971 calls in 2011).

One of the signs that parents can look for is a strong clove smell. K2/Spice is typically smoked, so parents may find a coffee grinder around the house – which is often used to reduce the product to a fine powder so that it is easier to smoke – and other drug paraphernalia such as pipes or screens or wrapping papers.

It is often labeled as incense, potpourri, or herbal smoking blend. It is sold under a variety of brand names including K2, Spice, Genie, Yucatan Fire, King Krypto, Mr. Nice Guy, K-3, Red Magic, Blueberry Medication, Super Skunk, Black Mamba, Bliss, Bombay Blue, and Zohai.

Synthetic Cathinones

Synthetic cathinones are usually sold in crystal-like powder form, with either a white or brown color. They are often contained in small plastic or foil packages labeled “not for human consumption,” and marketed as “bath salts,” “plant food,” “jewelry cleaner,” or “phone screen cleaner.”

Synthetic cathinone products marketed as “bath salts” should not be confused with products such as Epsom salts that are used during bathing. These bathing products have no mind-altering properties.

The only reason why they have the same name is because the products often look similar, like a fine powder.

So – what are “bath salts” anyway? They are a human-made chemical (as opposed to organic) stimulant drug, designed to mimic the effects of cathinone, which comes from the khat plant. They can be ingested orally or snorted through the nose. Generally, stimulants are a class of drugs that elevate mood, increase feelings of well-being and increase energy and alertness. Amphetamines, or speed, are an example of stimulant drugs.

“Bath salts” are sold with names, such as Ivory Wave, Blow, Red Dove, Vanilla Sky, Aura, Zeus 2, Zoom, Bliss, Blue Silk, White Lightning, Ocean, Charge, Cosmic Blast, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Cloud 9, Energy 1, White Dove, and others.

The effects of Bath Salts can be severe.

Effects reported to Poison Control Centers include:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Agitation
  • Combative/Violent behavior
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations/psychosis
  • Increased heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Hypertension
  • Chest Pain
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Death or serious injury
  • Self-mutilation
  • Severe paranoia can sometimes cause users to harm themselves or others

The speed of onset is 15 minutes, while the length of the high from these drugs is four to six hours.

Users frequently describe the high as horrible and report seeing demons, monsters, aliens, and foreign soldiers. Some have symptoms for several days and require psychiatric care because their symptoms weren’t improving.

In 2017, there were 105 calls to the Poison Control Center for synthetic cathinone exposures, a major decrease from over 6,000 calls in 2011.