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Substance that mimics speed headed here — in bath salts

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

In the never-ending search for escape from sober reality and the pursuit of altered consciousness, we have passed from the bygone days of  “whippets” to  … bath salts. Labeled variously as “Bliss,” “Ivory Wave,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Pixie Dust,“ they are being smoked, snorted and otherwise ingested — causing a public health hazard in the process.

UPDATE: State officials have criminalized the manufacture, sale or possession of “bath salts” drugs, making New Jersey only the fourth state in the U.S. to do so. READ MORE….

Louisiana today criminalized the cocaine-like substances. Other states, meanwhile, are trying to figure out how to give law enforcement the necessary tools to protect unwitting youngsters.

The primary ingredient is mephedrone, made from a chemical based on compounds found in the East African “khat” plant, which caused an uproar nearly a decade ago when people began importing and smoking it.

Similar to amphetamine, it accelerates the heart rate, makes you puke, convulse or become paranoid and even delusional — if it doesn’t give you a seizure first. The effects can last for days, sometimes producing “psychotic symptoms,” experts say.

Although European authorities have been grappling with it more than a year — street dealers there quickly added it to their stashes once the substance was banned — the “new” drug literally hit the U.S. radar late last fall. Since then, numbers have climbed quickly at poison control centers, mostly in the South and Southwest. Last year, authorities reported 232 calls to the centers. 2011 is just a week old and more than 50 incidents have been reported already.

It’s just a matter of time before it washes up on our Northeast shores.

“This is an emerging health threat that needs to be taken seriously,” said Alvin C. Bronstein, medical director of the Rocky Mountain Poison Control Centers in Colorado.

Apparently, an amphetamine-like compound is responsible. And although the packages — manufactured in China and India — clearly say, “Not for human consumption,” some consumers don’t care. The fact that they’ve been sold in convenience stores, headshops and online suggest something about the manufacturers’ intent.

What frightens physicians more than anything is the potential for long-term damage, given the fact that not enough time has passed for any type of meaningful study.

For adults in their late 40s or early 50s, the news could conjure images of inhaling nitrous oxide left in cans of Reddi Whip after all the cream was gone. Variants followed, including Ketamine, an animal tranquilizer that became popularly known as “Special K.”

Scientists say this is far more dangerous.

It all comes on the heels of the “Spice” trend: Although marketed as incense, a blend of chemically treated leaves has gotten its smokers stoned. Researchers are hard at work trying to find a non-harmful replacement — with the DEA looking over their shoulders.

Despite the “newness” of the bath salts, accidental and even intentional deaths already have been connected.

“Parents must sit down today with their children and have a very honest and serious discussion about the consequences [that] these drugs – and all illegal drugs — have,” said Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham, medical director of Louisiana’s Office of Behavioral Health. “Not just the physical and psychological consequences, but now, the legal consequences [in some areas]. We need young people to understand that this isn’t a game.”

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