But "bath salts" are the latest designer drug to catch law enforcement's attention and are drawing calls for a crackdown following reports of deaths and injuries.
The "salts" are really a powder that is snorted, injected or smoked. They are sold in inexpensive packets marked with harmless-sounding names like "Ivory Wave," "Vanilla Sky" and "Bliss," according to news reports. The drug is a powerful synthetic stimulant like cocaine and methamphetamine and can lead to paranoia, hallucinations and delusions, reports say.
While high on the drug, Neil Brown of Mississippi repeatedly slit his face and stomach with a skinning knife, The Associated Press reported. "I couldn't tell you why I did it," Brown told AP, pointing to his scars. "The psychological effects are still there."
The catch, for now, is that the chemicals used in the drug are legal in most of the country, and the packets sell for as little as $20 on the Internet, at head shops and convenience stores.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., says the packages "contain ingredients that are nothing more than legally sanctioned narcotics," according to The Associated Press. He announced a bill today that would add the ingredients to a list of federally banned substances.
Poison control centers received 235 calls about bath salts last year and 214 already this year, the Los Angeles Times reports. There have been scattered reports of users dying from overdoses, or suicides or accidents fueled by the drug, the paper said.
"The patients who were showing up with this, they were off the wall. Some of them looked like a true psychotic break," Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, told the Times.
Louisiana has been the hardest hit, with more than three deaths linked to the drug and more than 160 poison control cases since the end of September, the Times said.
Earlier this month, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced an emergency rule banning the chemicals in the drug for 120 days. "This is an epidemic," The Times Picayune quoted him as saying at the time.
Florida followed suit on Wednesday with a 90-day ban on one of the drug's key ingredients. In recent months, dozens of users have turned up in emergency rooms and mental hospitals, the Sun Sentinel reports.
Many of the state's poison control calls have come from South Florida but the scariest cases were in Panama City, in the Panhandle, earlier this month, the Sun Sentinel said.
One woman who was reportedly having a psychotic reaction to the drug swung a machete at her mother in an attempt to behead her, the paper said, citing Panama City Beach police. And a man high on the drug used his teeth to tear up the rear seat of a patrol car after he was wrestled into the cruiser by seven Bay County sheriff's deputies.
Ryan says officials in half of the states have gotten calls about the use of the drug. He believes state bans can make a difference, noting that poison control calls in Louisiana have dropped sharply since its ban, AP reported.
The stimulant affects neurotransmitters in the brain and "causes intense cravings for it," he told AP.
"They'll binge on it three or four days before they show up in an ER. Even though it's a horrible trip, they want to do it again and again," Ryan said.
The key ingredients, methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV, and mephedrone, have been labeled chemicals of concern by the Drug Enforcement Administration but they are legal anywhere they have not been specifically banned, the Times says.
Dr. Richard Sanders, a general practitioner in Covington, La., said his son snorted the drug and suffered from three days of intermittent delirium, ending with his death, the AP reported.
Dickie Sanders, 21, slashed his throat but survived and continued to have visions. After his father went to sleep, he said his son went into another room and fatally shot himself.
"If you could see the contortions on his face. It just made him crazy," Sanders told AP.