Designer Drug Sending Youth to the ER - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Designer Drug Sending Youth to the ER

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KENNEWICK, Wash. - Lots of young people between the ages of 12 and 20's are going to emergency rooms with a new set of symptoms.

'Spice' is a common name for all sorts of herbal mixtures on the market that are supposed to copy the effects of smoking marijuana.

"Well, it's really similar to regular marijuana. I gotta say, it's a lot more intense," said one man who wished to remain anonymous.

He described a scary experience after smoking the drug.

"One moment I was sitting on a chair and the next I was looking at my friends crouched over me. Apparently I had gotten up, began yelling at a wall, tripped over my couch and had a seizure."

That was the last time he used the stuff. He was worried about long term damage, though, so he went to the hospital to get checked out. Turns out, he was fine. But Kennewick General Hospital E.R. Doctor Louis Koussa said more and more people are coming in with symptoms of the drug.

"They're confused, they don't know who they are, where they are, what's going on. They're just disconnected with reality," said Koussa.

Patients have also complained of headaches, hallucinations or agitation. In extreme cases the drug can cause cardiac arrest or kidney failure.

It's packaged as potpourri or herbs made up of dried plant matter. But Dr. Koussa says it's anything but natural.

"They're sprayed with this synthetic cannabinoid that has, for the most part, untoward effects. We don't know what it does yet," Dr. Koussa said.

He explained that the chemical mimicking THC binds to the body's receptors tighter and longer than the natural form of THC, which is found in marijuana.

"There's no specific regulated quantity of synthetics sprayed on these herbs. So they could be getting a minimal dose or they could be getting an extraordinarily high dose, there's no way to know," Dr. Koussa said.

The DEA has made the five most common ingredients of the drug controlled substances, making them illegal to buy, use or sell.

But it's a tricky game of cat and mouse as manufacturers are constantly changing their recipes to sidestep those legal restrictions.