SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Users have called it worse than meth. It worries law enforcement officers who say it causes behavior that is completely unpredictable and often dangerous.
Synthetic drugs and bath salts often cause people to have psychotic episodes.
Much of the drugs, though, are perfectly legal.
The videos of people using synthetic drugs are disturbing. They show users seemingly out of their minds in no time.
"It affects the brain. People become psychotic very quickly after taking them," said Jeff Tucker.
Tucker never intended to become an expert on the subject, but he was forced to do so.
"Josh had not been drinking any alcohol, he had not taken any other types of drugs, and the drug testing came up negative, and unfortunately folks tend to jump to conclusions on things like that. Then, all of a sudden, you start thinking a lot of different things. He had calendars; we are still looking at calendars of what Josh should be doing this week," Tucker said.
Josh's big plan: mission work. Several pictures captured some of Josh's work on what would become his final mission trip, helping the needy in Colorado -- one of eight trips he took to share the gospel.
Josh was hit and killed by a vehicle last May. What on the surface looked like suicide, was anything but.
"The synthetic testing came back negative also and we were at a loss of what is going on. As I began to investigate and look into it, and research, I found out that the state of Missouri tested for four synthetic drugs, which I totally understand that budgets are limited, but there are over 140 synthetic drugs, and they literally tested for four out of 140," Tucker said.
What Tucker learned is sobering. Most synthetic drugs do not show up in a regular drug test. His 19-year-old son was proof. Josh had smoked what he thought was marijuana, but it was actually something much more dangerous. Within 45 minutes, Josh was gone.
"They were basically at the corner of Battlefield and 65 and he ran to a parking lot that was nearby and one of his friends went over to get him and, when he went to get him, Josh was staring up at the lights and was totally mesmerized by the lights in the parking lot. Josh broke away, took off running, ran over the embankment there at 65 and Battlefield and literally ran out onto Highway 65 and was struck and killed at that point," Tucker said.
Police say this is a reaction they've heard before.
"Because this is an unknown synthetic chemical, somebody who has never used it could overdose on their first attempt, or maybe have no effect on their first attempt. That is what is scary to us," said Danielle Heil with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Heil works in narcotics, and says the use of synthetic drugs has become rampant. And there's little that can be done to stop it.
"Gas stations sell it, tattoo parlors, head shops, gun shops are selling it," Heil said.
It is easy to get, relatively cheap, mostly legal, and highly addictive.
"The high lasts at least six hours—and up to 30 hours—the high lasts a lot longer than with your typical narcotics. It’s more dangerous that cocaine, it’s more dangerous than meth because with those drugs, you know what you are getting, with this stuff—we have no idea what it is," she said.
Makers just keep changing the ingredients slightly, so users can't get in trouble for having it.
"We can get the stores for selling it and that will fall under the imitation controlled substance statute, but just coming across somebody that’s using it, currently, the state statutes don’t cover it," Heil said.
The effects can be down right evil, according to one user that Danielle interviewed after pulling him over in traffic.
"He told me the voices in his head were telling him to go to Springfield and kill somebody. He admits he doesn’t know anyone in Springfield, and didn’t know who he was going to kill, he just knew this stuff was telling him he needed to go to Springfield and kill somebody. He admitted to seeing evil spirits, and hallucinations that were very frightening, demons, zombies," she said.
The thought of those kind of thoughts entering Josh's mind is upsetting, but Tucker says there is some comfort in knowing what really happened that night.
"We knew without a shadow of a doubt that Josh did not commit suicide, and not one time did that enter our minds or hearts, but it was very puzzling. Now we do know. A big reason we do know is because of the bravery of one of Josh's friends who came forward to talk to us and be fully honest with us."
Tucker is now on his own mission field to educate, and to live life to the fullest -- just like his son taught him to do.
The Centers for Disease Control reports it's seeing five times as many calls about bath salts than it did a year ago.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times