Meet "Smiles": The Next Scary Designer Drug

Meet "Smiles": The Next Scary Designer Drug

By May Wilkerson 09/24/12

Using a new synthetic hallucinogen, also known as "2C-I," is "like trying to get high off arsenic," one treatment expert tells The Fix.

Image: 
The white powder can be mixed with candy
before ingesting.
Photo via

Just as bath salts mania seems to have (mostly) simmered down, a new designer drug known as "smiles" may be lining up to induce parental panic. A synthetic hallucinogenic otherwise known as 2C-I, it's most often sold as a powder, which can be mixed with candy or chocolate before ingesting. Like its synthetic predecessors, such as K-2 and bath salts, smiles seems to appeal to a younger demographic—half of those exposed to it in 2011 were teenagers, according to the American Association of Poison Control. Little research into the possible dangers of the new drug yet exists, although it's thought to have been responsible for two teen deaths in East Grand Forks, North Dakota in June. One of them, 17-year-old Elijah Stai, stopped breathing several hours after an alleged overdose caused him to "smash his head against the ground" and act "possessed," "shaking, growling, foaming at the mouth," say witnesses.

Smiles elicits intense aural and visual hallucinations that may last for days, users report. Some describe side effects like nausea, vomiting, anxiety and panic attacks; one online commenter describes the high as a "roller coaster ride through hell." Like LSD and psilocybin (or "magic mushrooms"), the drug causes hallucinations by interfering with the brain's serotonin system, Dr. Harris Stratyner, vice president of Caron Treatment Centers, tells The Fix. But unlike better-known hallucinogens, it has stimulating effects—meaning it carries some of the risks of meth and other uppers, like potentially fatal dehydration, arrhythmia and stroke. "Combining a psychedelic with a stimulant—it's pretty frightening. It's like taking ecstasy and LSD together," says Dr. Stratyner. But the effects are highly unpredictable when you're talking about synthetic compounds that have yet to be thoroughly researched. 

The DEA has been quick to classify 2C-I as a Schedule 1 substance, making it illegal to manufacture, distribute or possess. Still, reports of teens using smiles across the US are popping up rapidly, which Dr. Straytner attributes largely to teens' tendency to spread "misinformation" through chat rooms, Facebook and blogs. He emphasizes the importance of parents sitting down with their kids to educate them on the dangers of smiles, and other synthetic drugs. K-2 and bath salts, once considered benign, have been made illegal since they were linked to a slew of hospitalizations earlier this year. "These kids are playing russian roulette," Dr. Staytner. "It's absolutely ludicrous that anyone would put this into your body. Its like trying to get high off arsenic or rat poison."