Mind-Altering Drugs: Prevention is the Key

This article was written by Joan Janusz, a member of the Northfield Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Alcohol and Drug Use.

Mind Altering Drugs-Old or New-Prevention the Key

Marijuana and the newer synthetic drugs promoted as “Incense” and “Bath Salts” have caused a lot of concern and received a lot of attention. There is a lot of misinformation about these drugs. Is marijuana a dangerous drug or a medical miracle? Is “Incense” a safer, legal form of marijuana? Are “Bath Salts” safer, legal forms of cocaine, LSD, or ecstasy?

Shedding light on these questions was a seminar sponsored by the Rice County Chemical Health Coalition on October 11, 2012 at South Central College.  Jay Jaffee, Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention Coordinator from the Minnesota Department of Health presented information to almost 100 representatives from law enforcement, schools, public health, mental health, attorneys, members of youth and drug prevention coalitions, parents, and others. 

Marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug in the U.S., Minnesota and Rice County.   Although many youth see marijuana as harmless, it is classified as a Schedule I drug because it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S.

Causing altered states of consciousness, marijuana affects short-term memory and impairs motor skills and reaction time.  Getting behind the wheel within three hours of using marijuana doubles a driver’s risk of crashing.  Chronic marijuana use can cause an irreversible teen IQ drop, increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and testicular cancer, reduce fertility, and cause low birth weight babies.  Containing 33 of the same harmful chemicals as tobacco smoke, long-term marijuana , use increases the risk of obstructive lung disease.

While marijuana is a known entity, the newer unregulated synthetic drugs are unpredictable.  “Herbal incense” (such as K2, Spice) and “Bath Salts” (such as Vanilla Sky, Tranquility) are touted as legal alternatives to marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, and other controlled substances.    “Incense” is generally unregulated mixtures of dried herbs sprayed with psychotropic drugs, many of them potent and some capable of fatal overdose. Because they are unregulated, potency may vary from package to package and it is easy to overdose. 

Why are these synthetic drugs popular?  They have been easy to obtain, didn’t show up on drug tests, have been legal in many places, and getting a lot of media attention.

Laws to ban these drugs were implemented in Minnesota in July, 20ll and August 2012.  A Federal law banning 31 synthetic drug formulas took effect October 1, 2012. Unfortunately, as soon as one synthetic drug formula is banned, another is developed to take its place. Jaffee challenged the group to move their focus from the drug itself to why people are using them.  Many teens (and adults) are smoking marijuana and using other drugs to self-medicate for many reasons including depression, stress, family dysfunction, etc.  We need to be focusing on prevention strategies, addressing issues that drug users are dealing with, in healthy appropriate ways.  This involves the whole community in developing comprehensive approaches; educating everyone; communicating community norms; developing, implementing and enforcing policies. 


You can view the entire presentation of Marijuana, Herbal Incense, and Bath Salts at  www.ricecountychc.com/videos.