Although substance abuse and addiction affect people from virtually everywhere, regardless of age, gender, religion, ethnicity or race, and socioeconomic background—research has shown that certain groups tend to experiment with substances and, therefore, develop addictions at higher-than-average rates. Parents and public officials continue to be concerned about adolescents and teens, one of the most high-risk groups.
While alcohol, tobacco, and “gateway drug,” marijuana, are the most commonly used substances in youth demographics, there are other and newer substances with which many people are less familiar. For parents, in particular, it’s important to have an awareness and basic understanding of what these other substances are, what their effects are, and what makes them particularly dangerous.
Below are some of the popular street drugs parents should know about, particularly those affecting adolescents and teenagers.
Although they’re colloquially known as “bath salts,” these drugs are not the botanically infused Epsom salts sold in stores for luxurious bubble baths. These synthetic stimulants are from the synthetic cathinone class of drugs, which are made in East Asia and distributed at wholesale levels throughout the world including North America.
The “bath salts” label makes it harder for authorities to detect when and where the product is being sold. Sometimes these products are listed as “plant food,” “jewelry cleaner,” or “phone screen cleaner,” among other names. This type of bath salt contains one or more synthetic chemicals that are similar to an amphetamine-like stimulant derived from the khat plant. Bath salts can be consumed orally, snorted, or injected with the latter being implicated in the most disastrous outcomes.
Bath salts often look like white or brown, large-grain crystalline powder. Despite the active chemical agents in bath salts being illegal, the drugs are frequently found in paraphernalia stores as well as online.
Individuals use bath salts for their ability to induce euphoric highs that make users more social and increase their sex drives. However, negative side effects often occur with the use of bath salts. They include high paranoia, delirious hallucinations, and agitation that can progress to the point of psychotic violence, which is why bath salts have been implicated in numerous gruesome deaths over the past several years.
Flakka (alpha-PVP) is an addictive street drug that is similar to bath salts but compared to the effects of crystal meth. It usually appears in the form of pink or white crystals, and users can consume it through eating, injection, snorting, and vaping via e-cigarettes. Flakka users are said to experience energy bursts and euphoria.
Krokodil, a potent street drug that produces a high 10 times more powerful than morphine, is a cheaper alternative to heroin for drug abusers. The drug, also known as desomorphine, has no accepted medical use in the United States and has been controlled in the US since 1936. However, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, it has been made in Russia for more than 10 years and is illegally available on the internet.
The drug is usually taken intravenously, and in long-term abusers, the skin may appear greenish and scaly because of damaged blood vessels, thrombosis, and damaged soft tissues surrounding where the substance was injected. The rotting of the flesh from the inside out gives users skin that resembles that of a crocodile, which is why the drug is called “krokodil”. Skin injuries can lead to severe tissue damage that causes inflammation of a vein, a condition called thrombophlebitis, and gangrene. Affected users may lose a limb to amputation, suffer organ loss, or in severe cases, die.
Other effects of krokodil use include:
- Blood poisoning
- Blood-borne virus transmission (HIV/HCV from sharing needles)
- Bone infections (osteomyelitis)
- Open ulcers, gangrene, phlebitis (vein inflammation)
- Limb amputations
- Liver and kidney damage
- Rotting gums and teeth loss
- Speech and motor skills impairment
- Impaired concentration
- Memory loss
MDMA or “Molly”
Often referred to on the streets and in clubs as molly, Ecstasy, or simply “E”, MDMA is the active ingredient in the more familiar party drug called ecstasy. It is an energizing, psychoactive stimulant that strongly distorts one’s perceptions while enhancing tactile experiences, which is where most of the enjoyment of the drug is derived. The substance is usually taken orally and can last for up to six or so hours; however, it’s common for individuals to take a dose of the drug every several hours to sustain its effects for a prolonged time. Molly users may be seen with a pacifier or lollipop, which is used to prevent their teeth from grinding and jaws from clenching while high on the drug.
Because of the drug’s ability to distort perceptions and enhance the senses, MDMA is a popular “club drug,” which means it’s often used by individuals when they are at nightclubs, raves, and festivals. Research has found that moderate or long-term use of MDMA damages nerve cells that contain serotonin. Additionally, the drug can have a strong stimulating effect on one’s heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in fatalities in some cases.
Molly users may also experience:
- Anxiety, confusion, depression, paranoia
- Blurred vision, chills
- Euphoria, empathy, reduced inhibition
- Increased motor activity, alertness, heart rate, blood pressure
- Muscle tension, tremors, teeth clenching, nausea, sweating
- Severe dehydration
- Sharp increase in body temperature (hyperthermia), which can lead to liver, kidney and cardiovascular failure, death
Methamphetamine (“Meth,” “Crystal Meth”)
Methamphetamine, a powerful man-made psychostimulant that affects the central nervous system, is among the most addictive drugs in the US. For many, the desire to repeatedly experience the first high felt after using the drug makes it difficult to quit using it.
On the streets, crystal methamphetamine, or crystal meth, is called “blade,” “crank,” “crystal,” “batu,” “ice,” “quartz,” “speed,” “Tina,” and “glass,” among other names. The substance comes in crystalline powder form or chunks that look like rocks that can be brown, white, pink, or yellow.
Once consumed, recreational users feel a quick euphoric high because neurotransmitters in the brain have been elevated, resulting in a boost to users’ energies and moods. People who are seeking to increase their alertness, enhance their sexual performance, or boost motivation and brain function, among other reasons, turn to meth for its powerful but addictive effects.
Meth’s ingredients, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, are commonly found in over-the-counter cold medicines. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, hazardous chemicals used to “cook” the drug remain toxic to the environment long after illegal production labs are shut down. The list of toxic chemicals includes acetone, fertilizer, ether, red phosphorus, and lithium.
Signs of meth use include:
- “Meth mouth,” and other dental problems that reflect poor oral health
- Imaginary “crank bugs,” which users think are crawling under their skin
- Increased rate of speech; talking rapidly
- Dilated pupils, light sensitivity
- Sleep disturbances
- Engaging in repetitive tasks for seemingly no reason, such as taking apart electronics
- Burn marks on fingers and/or the mouth; track marks
- Strange body odor, poor hygiene, and personal appearance
- Drug paraphernalia, such as needles, burnt spoons, cutoff straws
- Shaking, twitching, facial tics and other involuntary body movements
- Seeking out meth despite its dangers
What do you get when you take a soda drink, add prescription cold medication that contains promethazine and codeine, an opioid, and drop in some Jolly Ranchers or another candy for flavor? It’s a bizarre, wildly popular concoction that young people are calling “sizzurp”.
This new danger is considered to have been popularized by several rappers who mentioned sizzurp in some of their songs. In fact, many celebrities have reportedly used and abused this codeine-spiked beverage, which has become a staple at high school and college parties with roughly 10 percent of teens admitting to having developed an affinity for the stuff. It also is known as “purp,” “purple drank,” and “lean.”
Research in The American Journal on Addictions has shown that the codeine and promethazine mixture is notably popular among young African-American males.
As such, sizzurp is a parent’s nightmare: The soda and candy mask the unpalatable flavor of cough syrup, and the product is a very innocuous-looking beverage with a very tolerable, sweet flavor. In fact, one might even consume sizzurp without realizing it, believing him or herself to be drinking some kind of punch.
Codeine is said to be responsible for the euphoric high users have, but it is the promethazine that impairs a person’s motor skills and judgment.
- Sizzurp users may experience:
- Constricted pupils
- Droopy eyes
- Slurred speech
- Mild euphoria
The drink’s taste could give drinkers a false sense of security as they sip away, because the drink’s sweetness masks how powerful a concoction sizzurp is. Long-term abuse of codeine is addictive, and withdrawal from it can be an uncomfortable process.
Synthetic Marijuana (“K2,” “Spice”)
The first thing parents should know about the street drug synthetic marijuana is that it is not real marijuana. The names “synthetic marijuana” and “fake weed,” as the shredded plant material has been called, are misleading.
Also known as K2 and Spice, synthetic marijuana is actually a synthetic cannabinoid that falls under the category of “new psychoactive substances”. Other names they go by include “Scooby Snax,” “Green Giant,” “Black Mamba,” “Blaze,” “Bliss,” “Bombay Blue,” “Genie,” “Yucatan Fire,” “Moon Rocks,” and “Skunk”.
These drugs are often sold under labels such as “herbal incense” and “herbal smoking blends,” but the only natural component of synthetic marijuana is the plant material. Everything else, from the manmade chemicals sprayed onto the material to the drug’s effects on the body, which are said to be potent, unpredictable, severe, and life-threatening, are markedly different from the herb it is passed off as.
In the July 2016 Morbidity and Mortality Report, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, “Synthetic cannabinoids are two to 100 times more potent than delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis.”
Authorities also have a difficult time tracking the drugs because manufacturers change the products’ components to create “new” ones that haven’t yet been deemed illegal, which mean the chemical composition varies from batch to batch. The various changes increase the likelihood that users will experience effects that are different from what is expected, including:
- High blood pressure
- Suicidal thoughts
- Rapid heart rate
- Violent behavior
- Kidney failure
- Heart attacks
The high an individual gets from synthetic marijuana also can include:
- Detached psychosis, or delusional, disordered thinking
- Paranoia, anxiety, confusion, hallucinations
Leave Substance Abuse Behind
Any substance an individual uses for recreational purposes, whether it’s alcohol, bath salts, or other street and prescription drugs, can have unpredictable, dangerous outcomes. This is why we highlighted some of the street drugs parents should know about, which can change rapidly. If you or someone you love is struggling with chemical dependency, Drug Treatment Center Finder is here to help.