Synthetic and designer drugs have been in the news because of the harm they have caused and the frenetic law-making that has tried to keep up with the manufacturers of these drugs. Synthetic drugs, also sometimes labeled \u201cdesigner,\u201d are simply substances that produce a high and that are not naturally occurring. In some cases, they mimic a natural drug, such as marijuana. Synthetic Marijuana One of the most damaging, and most prevalent, of the designer drugs has been synthetic marijuana. For a while, these products were sold legally under the brand names Spice and K2. They were being sold mostly in gas station shops, where they were packaged to appeal to young people, even going so far as to use cartoon characters. These drugs were being labeled as harmless products like potpourri and incense. Those using them, however, knew better. K2 and Spice were designed to be smoked and to impart a high to the user. Synthetic marijuana products are made with a variety of herbal ingredients, mostly benign. Those dried herbal ingredients are then sprayed with a synthetic substance that is designed to mimic the active compounds in marijuana. THC is the main chemical compound in marijuana that causes users to feel a high. Makers of synthetic drugs created various versions of THC to use on their products. They were not illegal because those specific compounds had not been outlawed. When health care providers and policy makers finally caught on to what was happening with synthetic marijuana, laws were passed to outlaw them. Totally eliminating these products proved to be challenging because when one was banned, a new, slightly altered version was created to take its place. Texas Laws and Synthetic Drug Use In 2012, the Texas legislature outlawed Spice and K2 by adding them to the controlled substances list for the state. Unfortunately, the makers and sellers of synthetic drugs are making more changes to get around the laws. Newly created substances, packaged in different ways with new names are cropping up around the state, wreaking havoc. A teen from Cypress was recently left brain damaged after using products called Kush and Klimax. In spite of the harm caused, law enforcement cannot press charges, as those products are not on the list of illegal substances. The manufacturers of synthetic drugs have been successful in getting around the laws. The Texas Prevention Impact Index recently reported that use of these drugs is on the rise in the state. Perhaps most disturbing is that the biggest rise is among middle school students. Among 12th graders, synthetic marijuana is the second most used drug behind real marijuana. Nearly 10 percent of all high school students have used a synthetic drug in the last 30 days. In an attempt to halt the rise in synthetic drug use, state Senator Joan Huffman filed Senate Bill 263. The new bill identifies the latest compounds being used to create these new drugs. The bill also provides law enforcement with more flexibility to go after the newest creations, even before they have been synthesized. The idea is that the bill will fill the loophole that has so far allowed drug manufacturers to keep making new substances and get around the current laws banning synthetic drugs. The bill also includes provisions to help consumers and parents better understand the seriousness of using these drugs. The packaging for these substances will have to be labeled with the phrase, \u201cnot for human consumption.\u201d Synthetic Drugs in Houston A company based in Houston may be responsible for the harm caused by synthetic drugs around the country. The deaths of teens in North Dakota and Minnesota have been blamed on the substances sold online by the Houston company. The owner of the website purchased the drugs from Canada, China and Europe and sold them online. As with other instances of synthetic drugs, the substances sold by the company were different enough from illegal compounds to be allowed under the law, as long as they were not being knowingly sold as drugs. Thanks to the crusading parents of the dead teens, investigations led to the Houston-based company and those responsible are likely going to jail. As makers and sellers of synthetic drugs continue to get around laws, more young people will use these harmful substances and die from them. The much needed changes in the laws combined with rigorous investigations should help to curb the use of synthetic marijuana in Texas and the rest of the country.