Law enforcement officers in the Bismarck area have reported people using legal substances that mimic the effects of illegal drugs.
The substances, which mimic other known illegal drugs, appear to be technically legal, though they have been banned in some other countries.
Bismarck Police Lt. Bob Haas said detectives have learned of at least two people using a substance called “stardust,” which is labeled for sale as a herbal bath salt. Both ended up going to a Bismarck hospital for treatment.
“It says not for human consumption, so I guess a normal, rational person would say, ‘therefore I’m not supposed to stick it in my body,’” Haas said. However, the people had consumed it in various manners, resulting in a reaction similar to when people take methamphetamine, he said. “It’s just starting to rear its ugly head around here.”
Detectives purchased some of the substance at a local store specializing in smoking devices which could be used as drug paraphernalia. The “stardust” looked similar to powdered methamphetamine, according to the narcotics investigators.
“They’ve got some at the state lab to find out the chemical composition,” Haas said.
“We are concerned about it, and we certainly are aware of it,” Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said.
One of the people was admitted to the hospital due to the effects, but Haas was uncertain as to how long the other one was there. Kim Singer, Medcenter One spokesperson, said the doctor who treated the people who had used the substances was out of the office on Wednesday.
Online forums about “legal highs” list stardust as one of several types of mephedrone, a drug that has been widely reported in Europe and banned in some countries.
Officials are unsure whether the substance really has a use as a bath salt.
“I really don’t know what the price of meth is right now, but apparently this stuff ... costs about $50 a gram,” Haas said. “So it’s mighty expensive bath salt.”
Burleigh County Sheriff’s Cpl. Tracy Nelson said deputies in the county have encountered a marijuana-like substance sold in the same shops. The substance is labeled as incense and called “Spark-20.” The main ingredient is JWH-018, which has similar effects to THC. Nelson has been training deputies to know the difference between Spark-20 and marijuana, since Spark-20 does not appear to be illegal.
“We’re encountering it all the time,” he said.
Haas said the police department also has encountered Spark-20. It seems to produce hallucinogenic effects.
Nelson worries that parents may see the packages of Spark-20 and think their children are just burning incense. The substance, which contains herbs and looks similar to marijuana, sells for $35 a gram, which is double the cost of marijuana, Nelson said. He speculates that people on parole or probation who are having regular drug tests also may be using it as a substitute for marijuana.
Law enforcement officials hope to work with the Legislature to crack down on such substances, Nelson said.
Stenehjem said the state lab is working on analyzing the various substances to determine if they contain any drugs considered illegal under state law. Not much is known yet, but officials are concerned about the danger of people using substances for off-label uses.
“Those things can be exceedingly dangerous,” Stenehjem warned. “There’s no quality control. Nobody really knows what’s in it.”
February 24, 2010