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SPECIAL REPORT | A deadly high | News

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SPECIAL REPORT | A deadly high

ATLANTA -- 11Alive News has a warning that every parent and teenager should hear. It's about a type of drug that, six months or a year ago, you might never have heard of and might now believe is no longer a threat.

We're talking about so-called designer drugs like synthetic marijuana and bath salts, which until recently had been known as "a legal high."

Doctors warn these drugs can have powerful and unpredictable side effects. The bottom line is they can and have killed.

Lance Dyer learned just how dangerous these drugs can be after his 14-year-old son Dakota decided to experiment with them in March.

Dyer said the drugs triggered a psychotic break, transforming the otherwise happy, healthy teen into someone who was suicidal.

"Dakota took a handgun and took his own life," Dyer said. "He made the decision to smoke that stuff, and he paid the ultimate price for it."

In the days after his son's death, Dyer said the missing pieces of this troubling puzzle began to fall into place. He retrieved several text messages from his son's friends, urging him to try what they were describing as "legal bud" or synthetic marijuana. Dakota initially resisted but eventually wavered.

Dr. Martin Belson with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta said psychosis is a common side effect of these drugs.

"This is a very powerful chemical. It's supposed to be very similar in appearance to marijuana. However, it's much more toxic," Dr. Belson said. "We see a lot of problems with psychosis or hallucinations and paranoia.

Interest in synthetic drugs seemed to spike in 2011. The American Association of Poison Control Centers says call centers nationwide fielded nearly 7,000 calls about synthetic marijuana last year. The numbers, which are only available for the first half of 2012, are on pace to exceed last year's total with 3,821 calls so far.

That's despite the drugs being banned in Georgia and several other states and an aggressive crackdown by local and federal law enforcement.

Lance Dyer said he's left with the conclusion that these dangerous drugs are still available and others like his son are making the fateful decision to try them.

"Ladies and gentleman, it's not marijuana," Dyer said. "These products are nothing but poisons."