As a parent, you may be familiar with some illegal drugs or even tried them yourself. Nowadays, there are several emerging teen drugs that parents need to know about — some of which have dangerous side effects.

Recreational drug use among teenagers is not a new phenomenon; authority figures have grappled with the trend for decades, as famously seen in the “Just Say No” campaign led by First Lady Nancy Reagan in the 1980s.

Though using drugs is a commonality in virtually every generation of teenagers, the type of drugs that teens experiment with often changes. As of 2016, teen drug use has declined on the whole. In fact, statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) Monitoring the Future survey suggest that:

  • Among 8th, 10th and 12th graders who were surveyed, illicit drug use (besides marijuana) is at its lowest in history
  • Rates of past-year synthetic cannabinoid use have decreased
  • Rates of prescription drug use have decreased
  • Rates of tobacco use have decreased, among many other drugs

While the results of this survey are promising, teenagers are nevertheless still exposed to a wide variety of drugs over the course of their high school careers and young adulthoods.

In order to combat the challenge, it is important to have an accurate understanding of new illegal drugs that have become popularized in mainstream culture. Recognizing the side effects associated with a teenager getting high on a new drug is of utmost importance. Some of the new drugs commonly available to teenagers can be extremely dangerous and have long-term repercussions.


Parents may have heard of ketamine in the context of anesthesia. However, ketamine is not simply used as a horse tranquilizer, though many places online refer to it as such. Medically, ketamine is used as both an anesthetic and a pain reliever based on its mechanism of action.

Historically, ketamine has been used in children, particularly in emergency departments for sedation purposes. In early 2019, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ketamine for the treatment of depression.  Medical ketamine can be extremely useful and arguably improves certain individuals’ quality of life. However, when ketamine is used improperly or without the supervision of a medical professional, there may be serious consequences associated with its use.

Despite its many benefits, there is potential for ketamine to become the source of teen addiction. When used as a recreational drug, ketamine may be sold as pills or as a powder with limited insight as to its concentration. Some serious side effects associated with improper ketamine use include:

  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Elevated blood pressure and other heart problems
  • Seizures
  • Muscle spasms
  • Addiction/dependence/tolerance
  • Potential for overdose
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Dissociation
  • Respiratory depression

Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein is a recreational drug that got its name from the “c” in cocaine and the “k” in ketamine. Thus, Calvin Klein is a mixture of both cocaine and ketamine, though the proportion of each drug may vary substantially depending on the preparation. The high that teenagers feel from using Calvin Klein has been described as similar to that of MDMA. Both cocaine and ketamine have vastly different effects on the brain and the body, however, as cocaine is a stimulant and ketamine is a pain reliever and an anesthetic.

Just as there are dangers associated with teens using cocaine alone or ketamine alone, using both drugs together can be even more dangerous. For instance, in July of 2019, a teenage violin prodigy tragically passed away from a Calvin Klein overdose. The dangers of Calvin Klein cannot be underestimated, as one mistake may just make the difference between life and death. Parents should exercise open communication with their teenagers about the dangers associated with using “posh” and popular drugs such as Calvin Klein.

Bath Salts

Bath salts are otherwise known as synthetic cathinones. Bath salts have stimulant and psychoactive properties when used for recreational drug purposes. Bath salts may not be the most common drugs among youth, but they can be common replacements for stimulants like methamphetamine or MDMA. Some common nicknames of synthetic cathinones other than bath salts include:

  • White lightning
  • Bliss
  • Cloud 9
  • Lunar Wave
  • Vanilla Sky

Bath salts can be consumed in numerous ways. One way in which bath salts can be used includes when teenagers smoke bath salts. Other ways include snorting, swallowing or injecting bath salts. Research suggests that certain synthetic cathinones are ten times more powerful than a similar stimulant, cocaine. There are several common side effects associated with using bath salts including:

  • Feelings of paranoia
  • Panic or panic attacks
  • Becoming delirious
  • Enhanced sexual desire
  • Becoming more friendly
  • Erratic behavior
  • Hallucinations

Flakka, a “designer drug” and more potent second generation synthetic cathinone, has become increasingly popular in recent years. Flakka is a particularly dangerous drug as it does not allow for the reuptake of neurotransmitters; this has the effect of causing extremely exaggerated emotions and psychotic symptoms. Using flakka can lead to more serious effects including hyperthermia, becoming comatose or can even lead to death.

Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids go by many different nicknames — the most common of which include K2 or spice. Though overall drug use has decreased in recent years, the rate of marijuana use in older teenagers has stayed relatively stable. Conversely, the rate of synthetic cannabinoid use in teenagers has been declining. Nevertheless, synthetic marijuana is a common drug for high school students to try, often because it is easily accessible.

It is important to note that synthetic marijuana is not traditional marijuana as you may think of it, but has similar properties to actual marijuana or cannabinoids. Often times, chemicals that induce effects similar to marijuana are sprayed on shredded plant material to be smoked. Some companies produce liquid forms of synthetic marijuana for inhalation via e-cigarettes. Synthetic marijuana has psychoactive properties that are generally far more intense and at times dangerous than regular marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana may also be referred to as joker, black mamba, kush or kronic. Teenagers may be able to purchase synthetic marijuana from the internet or from novelty stores that sell drug paraphernalia. Although synthetic marijuana preparations are against the law, manufacturers constantly change their formulas, allowing them to temporarily circumvent the law. Synthetic marijuana can produce extreme anxiety, delusions, hallucinations, psychotic episodes and even suicidal thoughts in certain individuals.


Salvia’s technical name is Salvia divinorum. It is a herb native to Mexico and, unlike synthetic marijuana, has been used medically as a treatment for pain and inflammatory conditions for many years. Salvia is known in recreational circles for producing short-term, intense and hallucinogenic experiences. Even though salvia’s effects only last for a matter of minutes, individuals may feel as if time is moving extremely slow while under the influence of this drug. There have not been enough studies to assess teen drug abuse of salvia. However, the use of salvia is associated with side effects including:

  • Mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Feeling detached from reality or feeling “fake”
  • Confused senses (seeing colors — similar to the condition of synesthesia)
  • Hallucinations

In some cases, teenagers may concurrently smoke salvia while taking LSD for a more surreal “trip” or experience while under the influence of these drugs. Some individuals may relate smoking salvia to LSD feels as far as changes in perception, yet these two drugs act on different receptors and thus produce different, albeit intense psychoactive effects.

Does your teen struggle with addiction to ketamine, Calvin Klein, bath salts, synthetic marijuana, salvia or other emerging drugs? The Recovery Village® can help. Contact a representative today to discuss treatment options for addiction recovery as well as any co-occurring mental health conditions.

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Editor – Daron Christopher
Daron Christopher is an experienced speechwriter, copywriter and communications consultant based in Washington, DC. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD
Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more

Coffeen, U; Pellicer, F. “Salvia divinorum: from recreational hall[…]-inflammatory action.” J Pain Res, March 22, 2019. Accessed July 30, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Synthetic Cannabinoids.” February 20188. Accessed July 30, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Synthetic Cathinones (“Bath Salts”).” February 2018. Accessed July 30, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. “Salvia.” March 2019. Accessed July 30, 2019.

National Institutes of Health. “How ketamine relieves symptoms of depression.” April 30, 2019. Accessed July 30, 2019.

National Institutes of Health. “Teen substance use shows promising decline.” December 13, 2016. Accessed July 30, 2019.

Rosenbaum, Steven; Palacios, Jorge. “Ketamine.” NCBI Bookshelf, February 21, 2019. Accessed July 30, 2019.

Salani, D; Albuja, L; Zdanowicz, M. “The Explosion of a New Designer Drug, Fl[…]cations for Practice.” J Addict Nurs, December 2018. Accessed July 30, 2019.

Sloan, Elizabeth. “Calvin Klein Drug: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.” Heavy, July 13, 2019. Accessed July 30, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.