Drug Roundup: The latest on Spice, Bath Salts, Europa, and Kratom

When Huey Lewis sang "I Want a New Drug" back in 1984, he may have simply been echoing the American penchant for "bigger, better, faster, more." 

After all, that was the decade that many drug users decided cocaine wasn't a big enough kick and moved to crack. 

It was also the dawn of a new era in the "War on Drugs," with Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign and the launch of new outreach programs like Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) and Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Twenty seven years later, the market for "new drugs" is stronger than ever (and a direct result, some say, of the "War on Drugs"). Head shops and online stores offer "legal" alternatives to illegal drugs, many of which include chemical compounds synthesized in all kinds of labs.

Instead of marijuana (illegal in most places), there was spice. Instead of illegal meth and cocaine, there are dubiously packaged, so-called "bath salts" to snort. Instead of LSD, there's 2C-E. And as a substitute for heroin and opiates, there's Kratom. Every time a new designer drug or substance is made illegal, a new product with a slightly different formula emerges. Representatives for the Drug Enforcement Administration and substance abuse counselors have to admit there's no way to catch everything.

For the past two years, Phoenix New Times has covered a handful of the most popular and prominent drugs to hit the so-called "legal drug" market in the U.S. Here's a rundown of those substances, along with updates on their current legal statuses.

Various brands of "spice," purchased prior to the federal ban.
Various brands of "spice," purchased prior to the federal ban.
Niki D'Andrea

Spice, a.k.a. "Synthetic Marijuana"
Following an explosion in popularity throughout Phoenix and the United States in the spring of 2010, we printed a story about the chemical compounds used in spice and potential safety concerns. While legislators in Arizona moved to ban several of the chemical compounds in spice early this year, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration announced an emergency ban in March on five of the most commonly used compounds in spice. While the temporary, emergency ban (which could last up to two years) is in effect, the Drug Enforcement Administration is conducting research and gathering data for a potential permanent scheduling of certain spice compounds.

Bath salts, a.k.a. "Legal Speed"
Late last year, we wrote about the emergence of bath salts  as a so-called "legal alternative" to drugs like meth and cocaine. We also reported on the synthetic compounds used in bath salts, as well as the potential dangers of snorting or injecting the salts. Several states (not including Arizona) have instituted their own bans on bath salts, and the DEA has listed the synthetics in baths salts as "Drugs and Chemicals of Concern," but the DEA is not pursuing an emergency ban at this time.

A pile of 2C-E powder.
A pile of 2C-E powder.
Wikimedia Commons

2-CE, a.k.a Europa, a.k.a. "The New LSD"
This synthetic hallucinogen was created in a lab in the 1970s, and re-emerged as a recreational drug this past spring. The 2C-E chemical remains uncontrolled in the U.S., and synthetics with similar chemical structures (2C-I and 2C-T-7) are also unscheduled substances. However, because 2-CE mimics the effects of a controlled substance (LSD), sellers can be prosecuted under the Federal Analog Act. 2C-E has been blamed for a "mass drug overdose" (including one fatality) in Kansas earlier this year.

Kratom, a.k.a. "Opium Substitute"
Unlike the synthetic drugs listed above, Kratom is entirely organic, made from the leaves of a tree native to parts of Asia. Though its effects are described as "euphoric" and there have been have been no reported fatal overdoses of the drug, drug enforcement officials and substance abuse counselors have expressed concern over Kratom's potential for addiction. It is currently uncontrolled in the U.S., but is listed as a "Drug and Chemical of Concern" by the DEA.

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