'Bath Salts,' 'Spice' and US Military: Are Service Members Abusing Synthetic Drugs?

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An undercover investigation for National Geographic explores the availability of powerful synthetic drugs, with names like "spice" and "bath salts," and its popularity among members of the U.S. military.

For the next installment of National Geographic's "Inside: Secret America" series, which takes an in-depth look at how people can easily purchase synthetic drugs, investigative journalist Mariana van Zeller went undercover with a former Marine and a Marine on active duty in San Diego to local smoke shops as they purchased bath salts. The "Bath Salts" episode airs on July 10 at 10 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.

"Spice" mimics the effects of marijuana. While "bath salts" look as harmless as their name, they are a strong concoction with an impact similar to amphetamines or cocaine.

Despite the risks, Jordan, and his friend, who was called Chris, are no strangers to this new class of drugs. Jordan was kicked out of the Marines a month before talking with National Geographic for disciplinary reasons, but Chris is still on active duty, which is why his identity is not being revealed.

"You get this awesome, you know, just power, you know, feel inside of you," Chris said, in talking about the effects of bath salts. "Just makes you feel like you could do whatever you want, just feels good."

Jordan said synthetic drug use in the U.S. military is at "epidemic" levels.

"I would probably say 50 to 70 percent have tried or currently do spice or bath salts," Jordan said. "Over my career, that's what I've seen."

The U.S. Marine Corps does not release official statistics on synthetic drug use, so it's difficult to verify Jordan's claims. But Jordan said one thing is clear -- the drugs are not hard to find.

"One of the weird things about it is that it can be bought anywhere," he said.

While in downtown San Diego, Jordan took van Zeller, who was wearing hidden cameras, to a head shop to buy bath salts. Jordan explained how to properly ask for "Bubbles" – the brand name of the bath salts sold at the particular shop they went into.

"Work your way into it," Jordan said. "If you just walked in there like an idiot going, 'Can I get some bath salts please?' they wouldn't hook you up."

Jordan and Chris said Bubbles are kept hidden from most customers at that shop, where neither had any problems purchasing the infamous drug.

"You have to walk in with a military hair cut, acting like a regular client," Chris said. "It's kind of how you gotta purchase it."

The Department of Defense banned spice for all military personnel in 2010. But spice and bath salts might be popular in the military because synthetic drugs don't show up on the standard urine tests all Marines are required to take routinely.

When Jordan was at Camp Pendleton in California, he said he routinely smoked synthetic marijuana with other Marines. He also tried bath salts, but said he never wanted to use them again after his last experience.

"[It's] exciting and amazing and terrible at the exact same time," Jordan said in describing the feeling the drug gave him. "It made me feel like God, almost. But com[ing] down was the worst part. Once it -- all the stuff was going and you started coming down the hangover was terrible. You don't want to function. Your body felt disgusting."

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