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Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

Designer drugs: A wolf in sheep's clothing

How could anything with such a benign name as bath salts, spice or bliss be dangerous? Think of these synthetic drugs instead as ever-changing narcotic concoctions designed to be easily available and one step ahead of prosecution.

One of the scariest things about designer or synthetic drugs is that manufacturers are constantly changing the formulations in order to avoid the law. Because these chemicals and their effects on the human body have not been studied, many of the dangers are not yet known. We do know they can be purchased easily online, and some of their effects include increased blood pressure, confusion, hallucinations and extreme agitation.


Recent news reports of a gruesome attack on a homeless man in Miami have drawn attention to bath salts and other synthetic drugs because of their implication in the unusual attack. Also called designer drugs, these drugs are created to mimic substances like marijuana and cocaine. Substances like K2 -- also known as Spice -- contain dried and shredded plant material with the addition of various chemicals included to cause a high. Bath salts or ivory wave, bliss and cloud nine are powder-like substances that contain synthetic stimulants. Both bath salts and K2 have been designated as Schedule I substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which means they have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefits.

It is illegal to sell these drugs in Indiana, but not in several other states. In 2011, Indiana passed House Bill 1196, making 60 of the chemical compounds found in bath salts and K2 illegal substances and giving the Indiana Board of Pharmacy emergency powers to declare a substance a synthetic drug in order to ban it from sale. This part of the law makes it easier for the state to keep up with the manufacturers of designer drugs who frequently change the chemicals included in order to get around state laws. Despite House Bill 1196, drugs such as bath salts and K2 are widely available online.

Because such drugs are popular among youth due to their accessibility and the perception that they are natural and legal it is extremely important that parents talk to their kids about them. Here are some tips:

  • Monitor and supervise youth activities.
  • Communicate -- possibly the most important tip. Parents should talk with their kids and ask them what they know about these drugs. Let them know parents' expectations in clear terms -- that parents expect them to not use these or any drugs and the consequences of any use.
  • Parents need to educate themselves about what these drugs look like, where they are available and the effects they have. With this knowledge, parents can inform their kids about the dangers in addition to teaching them drug resistance skills.
  • Parents should praise good behavior and drug refusal, expressing pride in children for not taking drugs.

*For more information including podcasts and webinars about K2 and bath salts, visit our website at: www.drugs.indiana.edu