Synthetic Drug Threats
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State legislatures are outlawing two classes of synthetic drugs: synthetic cannabinoids (a.k.a. “Spice” or “K2”) and substituted cathinones (a.k.a. “bath salts”). At least 43 states have already banned one or both of these substances. Legislation in 2009 and 2010 targeted specific versions of the drugs. However, minor changes to the chemical make-up of these substances can create new but very similar drugs not covered in the law. In response, 2011 and 2012 legislation targets entire classes of substances and aims to prevent new formulations of synthetic drugs from remaining unregulated, while still allowing the substances for approved medical and research purposes.
Synthetic Cannabinoids (a.k.a. "Spice" or "K2")
At least 40 states have legislatively banned synthetic cannabinoids. More information on state synthetic cannabinoid laws are available on our Synthetic Cannabinoid Enactments and Pending Synthetic Cannabinoid Legislation pages.
Synthetic cannabinoids are chemically engineered substances similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”), the active ingredient in marijuana. When smoked or ingested, synthetic cannabinoids can produce a high similar to marijuana. Initially developed for pain management research and the effects of cannabis on the brain, these substances have recently become a popular alternative to marijuana. The substances are sprayed on dried herbs and marketed and sold in local convenience stores or on the Internet under names like “Spice,” “K2” or “Genie.”
Synthetic cannabinoids can be classified into eight general groups, based on the type of chemical alteration made to the original substance: tetrahydrocannabinols; naphthoylindoles; naphthylmethylindoles; naphthoylpyrroles; naphthylideneindenes or naphthylmethylindenes; Phenylacetylindoles; cyclohexylphenols; and benzoylindoles. For more information on synthetic cannabinoid classes and the substances included in each, see Synthetic Cannabinoid Classes.
Substituted Cathinones (a.k.a. "Bath Salts")
At least 38 states have outlawed substituted cathinones. More information on state substituted cathinone laws are available on our Substituted Cathinone Enactments and Pending Substituted Cathinone Legislation pages.
Substituted cathinones, commonly known by their street name, “bath salts,” are derivatives of cathinone, a psychoactive substance with stimulant properties occurring naturally in the khat plant. The effects of substituted cathinones are similar to amphetamines like ecstasy and cocaine.
The four most widely recognized substituted cathinones are mephedrone, MDVP, methylone and methedrone. While these substances are typically referred to individually, they can be classified more generally as compounds structurally derived from cathinones and modified in one of a few different ways. For more information on substituted cathinone classification and related substances, see Substituted Cathinone Classes.
States with Legislation Outlawing Synthetic Drugs:
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NCSL Drug Policy Resources
"A Bad Trip," State Legislature Magazine (June 2011)
StateStats: The Real Problem of Fake Drugs (April 1, 2011)
"Synthetic Pot Peril," State Legislature Magazine (October 2010)
State K2 Legislation Podcast, NCSL's The Thicket at State Legislatures (October 2010)
For more information on these substances, as well as federal bans, please visit our Additional Resources page.
Issues & Resources
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Updated May 14, 2012
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