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This is a strange little post, but one that has been brewing for a few weeks. With a bit of a break between regular and special council meetings and town presentations this seems a good time to put together a few words.

As some of you may know I have a graduate degree from the College of Pharmacy of The Ohio State University, and I have spent my career in the pharmaceutical business, never far from the research and development teams. As a result of education and career I have kept a close eye on the recreational use of pharmaceuticals.

While there is much public discussion of the abuse of prescription narcotics and sedative/hypnotics, as well as recreational use of methamphetamine, there is little local awareness of designer hallucinogens. This was brought to my attention when raising this issue with people in town who are connected in one way or another to mental health services or law enforcement. In all cases I needed to explain what I meant by designer drugs and the terms “bath salts”, “incense” and “plant food”.

These designer drugs are variations on well known, and for the most part well understood, hallucinogens such as LSD, MDA and cannabinoids. In many cases these designer drugs are similar to the better ‘studied’ hallucinogens in terms of ‘psychedelic’ activity. The attraction to these designer drugs is that they are so new that in many cases legislation has not caught up to make them illegal. But because they are so new the dangers associated with their use is also not properly understood. While some might disagree, the better known psychedelics/stimulants – such as LSD, mescaline, and MDA, for the most part are not associated with significant toxicity if taken infrequently and in reasonable doses. This is because they are inherently not remarkably toxic, and over the past 50 years (yes it’s been that long) considerable experience has been gained in their reasonably safe recreational use.

What about “incense”, “bath salts” and “plant food”? Well these are the terms used for designer drugs sold at retail in convenience stores, mini-marts and ‘smoke’ shops. Because these designer drugs are not necessarily illegal (yet), and there are limited tests to verify their composition, they are often brazenly sold over the counter in single dose packages with labeling stating they are not for human use. But they most certainly are intended for recreational use.

These designer drugs carry a number of risks. There may be as many as fifty different designer drugs available worldwide, all of them different in terms of proper dosing, type of experience and length of intoxication. The exact product in the package and the dose can be very variable. While users have some reasonable sense of what they can expect from the more commonly used, and illegal, drugs, this is not the case with designer drugs. There are reports of users being totally overwhelmed by the experience and making very poor decisions that have led to death and injury.

Another major risk relates to dose and contamination. In many cases these designer drugs are sloppily manufactured and subjected to little or no quality control. This can lead to significant variation in quality and contamination with manufacturing chemicals and intermediates. These contaminants can have significant safety issues associated with their use.

I am not aware of “incense”, “bath salts” and “plant food” being sold in Parry Sound. But then again I don’t often frequent the type of stores that would be stocking these products. With reported prices of $10 to $20 per single dose package, they can be a real bargain for someone looking for something ‘different’, and a profitable product for the retailer.

You now know a little more about designer drugs. Check out this additional link, Discovery Magazine, to learn a little more about the problem. Perhaps we should all be on the lookout for these products. And if it’s a problem south of the border, it will be a problem sooner rather than later. Here’s a very recent news item about designer drugs in Owen Sound.