08/08/2012 04:45 pm ET Updated Oct 08, 2012

This Spice Can Kill You

Street drug talk isn't just names like: pot, blow, meth or coke anymore. It has gotten much more cryptic and complicated. What are Spice & bath salts anyway?

It's time for a lesson in the latest illegal street drugs. You might want to tear out this column and carry it with you to help remember the modern-day lingo associated with today's illicit drug trade.

You've probably already heard about how the Department of Justice conducted a nationwide sweep for illegal synthetic drugs called bath salts and Spice. According to a recent announcement out of the DOJ's Albuquerque office, federal agents put a major dent in this drug enterprise by arresting 90 suspected dealers across the country and confiscating more than 36 million dollars in cash. They also grabbed up millions of doses of bath salts and Spice and got them off the street.

That's a good start, I suppose, but as every narcotics agent will tell you it's probably just a drop in the bucket considering what's still out there.

So, what exactly are these drugs? It gets confusing because of all the different nicknames dealers use for their products but here's a quick-study primer: bath salts is a powder laced with a cocktail of chemicals that comes in either capsules or in loose form. A user can either swallow the capsule whole or use the power, mixed with liquid and inject it in their veins. Sometimes it is snorted directly up the nose. It is said to replicate a cocaine or ecstasy high.

Spice, on the other hand, looks like plant material or potpourri and is similarly coated in high-octane chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana when it is smoked or steeped for a hot drink. These synthetic drugs are attractive to users because the chemicals used to create them defy detection in traditional drug tests.

Both are advertised as being "all natural," safe to use and legal but, in fact, they are none of those things. They can be deadly.

There have been several sensational stories across the nation recently about people "going crazy" after taking bath salts or Spice and committing suicide or murder. In Texas, police say a suspect hopped up on Spice went berserk, killed a friend's cocker spaniel and chewed off "hunks of flesh" from the animal. Users are said to feel a surge in energy, a flush of fever and delusions of invincibility.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports a near epidemic number of calls from those who've had life threatening symptoms after using bath salts or Spice. In 2010, there were about 3,200 calls to centers nationwide. Last year, that number soared to more than 13,000 and a majority of patients were under the age of 25. These synthetically manufactured drugs can cause vomiting, hallucinations, and such high blood pressure that lasting heart problems have been reported along with cases of deadly heart attacks.

A.A.P.C.C.'s president Dr. Rick Dart says these drugs are among the worst his members have ever seen. "People high on these drugs can get very agitated and violent, exhibit psychosis and severe behavior changes," he said. "Some have been admitted to psychiatric hospitals and have experience continued neurological and psychological effects."

If you are concerned about young people in your family you'd be wise to realize the street drug lingo isn't pockmarked with simple words like pot, blow, meth or coke anymore. It has gotten much more cryptic and complicated. Keep an ear out for nicknames and brand names for bath salts like: Plant Food, Incense, Ivory Wave, Purple Wave, Vanilla Sky or Bliss. And if you hear a loved one talking about Zic Zac, K2, Yucatan Fire, Smoking Camel, Happy Daze or Moon Rocks they are probably speaking in code about Spice. Do them and yourself a favor. Sit them down, hand them this column to read and stress that these designer drugs may be trendy but they kill and maim those who are reckless enough to mess around with them.

I know it sounds crazy since we have known about the perils of these synthetic drugs for a few years now but until recently bath salts and Spice were sold legally over-the-counter at smoke shops, gas stations and via the internet. Individual states passed laws to try to get a handle on the worsening situation by banning one or a combination of the chemicals used to make the drugs. But crafty dealers would simply change their recipe a bit to skirt the law, all the while making sure their product still delivered the same dangerous high to customers.

Finally, last month, Congress passed and President Obama signed the "Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act" which flatly bans dozens of different chemicals used to make the drugs and it makes no recipe distinctions. In addition, the new law prohibits not only the currently identified chemical cocktails used in bath salts and Spice but all similar compounds that might ever be produced in the future. The frosting on the cake is that the legislation outlaws both interstate and Internet sales as well.

Let's get past wondering why it took Congress so long to pass a much-needed law, and hope that this first-of-its-kind federal legislation will go at least part of the way toward getting these horrid concoctions off the streets and away from our vulnerable young people.

Diane Dimond writes about all things having to do with crime and justice. She may be reached through her official website: