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The term "designer drugs" refers to drugs that are created in a laboratory, typically in an "underground" or secret, illegal lab. A designer drug is created by changing the chemical properties of an existing drug, to avoid the provisions of existing drug laws. The resulting "designer" drugs can have a new and different effect on the brain or behavior.

The following designer drugs have gained in popularity and are still legal in some states, leaving parents, doctors, and concerned citizens nearly helpless to a potential drug epidemic.

Spice-also known as K2, Fake Marijuana, and other names-is a synthetic, or man-made substance made from shredded dried plant materials and chemicals. Spice appears to stimulate the same brain receptors as marijuana and produces a similar "high." Like marijuana, Spice is usually abused by smoking, but it can also be prepared as a drink.

Because Spice is marketed as being "natural," some people may think it's safe to use. However, the ingredients used to make Spice can vary, and no one is regulating the procedure to verify the ingredients are safe. Some mixtures have been found to contain harmful metal residues which could have dangerous effects on your brain and body.

Nationwide, a reported 6,959 calls about synthetic marijuana have come in to poison centers during 2011, up from 2,906 calls in all of 2010.

For several years, Spice mixtures have been easy to purchase over the internet, in head shops and gas stations. Because the chemicals used in Spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration has designated the five active chemicals most frequently found in Spice as Schedule I controlled substances, making Spice illegal to sell, buy, or possess. Manufacturers of Spice attempt to evade these legal restrictions, by substituting different chemicals in their mixtures.

The DEA continues to monitor the situation and evaluate the need for updating the list of banned Cannabinoids.

In a report of illicit drugs most used among high school seniors, Spice was second only to Marijuana. Easy access and the misperception that Spice products are "natural" and therefore harmless have likely contributed to their popularity. Another selling point is that the chemicals used in Spice are not easily detected in standard drug tests, paving the ground for the recent influx of abuse by Soldiers. The Joint Pathology Center, formerly known as the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, will accept samples for testing with Probable Cause for synthetic Cannabinoids.

In the Army, if a drug is designed to mimic an illegal substance, it is illegal.

Bath Salts are a new type. The name sounds innocent enough, like an old-fashioned cure for tired feet. But these days, "bath salts" are far from what you would find in your local soap aisle at the grocery store or day spa.

Bath salts are a new type of designer drug laced with synthetic stimulants, which people use to get high by swallowing, snorting or injecting the substance. Nationwide, a reported 6,138 calls about bath salts have come in to poison centers during 2011--up from 303 calls in all of 2010. Between Jan. 1 and April 30 2012, calls to poison control centers regarding Bath Salts hit 1,007.

It is too early to tell the exact short- and long-term effects from abusing bath salts, but what little we do know so far is alarming. Effects can include extreme paranoia, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts, as well as chest pains, soaring blood pressure, and rapid heartbeat. A number of violent crimes and accidental deaths were reported in people who took the drug. A double-homicide/suicide of a Fort Lewis Soldier in April 2011 reflects the vulnerability of U.S. Army Soldiers.

Legal or not, it is best to steer clear of these drugs. Soldiers, Retirees, Civilians, Contractors, and Family members should be aware of the dangers of drugs. Make Red Ribbon Week last a lifetime by pledging to live a drug - free lifestyle.

For more information, visit the Fort Detrick ASAP Prevention Education resource library, 1520 Freedman Drive, Room 213-F.