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Legal highs: Risky, intoxicating and addictive

The spike in drug abuse and subsequent frenzy created by the media often promulgate wrong information about a range of drugs available in the market. The distorted data shams the public who largely remains ignorant of the drugs’ complex chemistry and tend to fall into the trap of drug abuse. Most of the time, these substances of abuse remain cloaked in mystery and wonder.

Here, we try to decipher the chemical composition and origins of a few of the most controversial but lesser-known substances. Some of these substances are legal highs, i.e., substances with stimulant or mood-altering properties whose sale or use is legal under the current legislation. There is no such thing as a bad chemical, but, when misused, the unknown darker side effects surface and lead to toxicity, overdosing and death.

  1. Synthetic cannabinoids (Spice, K2, etc.): Synthetic cannabinoids or Spice or K2 have been around for only about five years or so compared to marijuana, which man has been smoking for 4,000 years and yet it’s medical properties are still widely debated. Therefore, it is too early to determine all long-term effects of synthetic cannabinoids. Due to inadequate knowledge and insufficient information, it will be a mistake to term it as “synthetic marijuana.” By marketing it as a legal high, manufacturers tried undermining the real effects of synthetic cannabinoids by listing the ingredients as legal herbs. However, these drugs have emerged as a menace among the common masses.

The lab-tweaked variations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in synthetic cannabinoids (THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that causes a range of psychotic effects) very often do not even remotely resemble the original structure of marijuana. The only similarity with marijuana is in how they bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain but with 100 times more efficiency than THC resulting in unpredictable outcomes, including psychosis and depression.

  1. 2M2B: 2-methly-2-butanol (2M2B) is predominantly used as a pigment solvent. However, it is being sold on the legal high sites as a depressant and intoxicant, mostly in the doses of 5 or 10 ml. Despite its distasteful camphor-like taste, users describe an initial rush that feels like five shots of vodka with only 7.5 ml of 2M2B. It acts on the same neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors as ethanol, but what is unique about it is that 2M2B is broken down differently from ethanol. Yet, there are no hangovers from it, making it an alluring substance of abuse. Since it is several thousand times more potent than ethanol as a sedative, it poses an increased risk of respiratory depression.
  2. Bromo-DragonFLY: This highly potent psychedelic chemical was designed to be used in the research studies on the brain’s serotonin receptors. It hit the headlines in 2009 following two deaths linked to it after a Chinese vendor mislabeled and sold it as a different designer drug. It usually comes in powder or blotter form and takes a long time to come into effect. The high potency and slow onset make it easier for the users to overdose on this drug. Another inherent danger is the acute constriction of blood vessels and the resultant reduction of blood flow, because of which, a victim may lose all the fingers on his/her hands and toes.
  3. 2C-P: It is classified as an amphetamine because it primarily targets dopamine, the brain chemical responsible for stimulant reactions. However, serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for hallucinogenic effects, is also targeted by 2C-P. Of both the effects, its hallucinogenic effects are known to be stronger than its stimulant effects which can last for at least 16 hours depending upon a person’s psychological state. It is a synthetic psychedelic drug that causes powerful visual hallucinations and longer effects than its close chemical cousin 2C-B that flourished briefly in the U.S. club scene until it was prohibited in 2001.

Recovery road map

Considering the above-mentioned repercussions of such drugs, it has become more than essential to spread adequate awareness on their side effects. A drug sold as a legal high poses multiple challenges in the form of adverse side effects. When addicted to such drugs, people should seek appropriate treatment and recovery measures.

If you or your loved one is grappling with any addiction, seek immediate help. The Texas Substance Abuse Helpline assists in accessing the best substance abuse treatment centers in Texas that specialize in delivering evidence-based intervention plans. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-971-2658 or chat online to know more about the substance abuse treatment programs in Texas.