Legal Drugs All Parents Should Know About

Table of Contents

When you’re a parent, you may worry about your teen using illicit drugs, and yes, that is a genuine threat. Sometimes, however, the most significant danger isn’t from illegal drugs. The legal ways teens get high can be more accessible and often more harmful.

Unfortunately, from household substances to prescription and over-the-counter drugs, teens get high in many legal ways. We often don’t think about the potentially deadly effects of recreational drugs that are legal like we think about the risks of illegal drugs.

Below, we cover some of the more common legal ways teens get high.


Spice is a mix of herbs and lab-made chemicals. Spice has mind-altering or psychoactive effects.

Sometimes spice is called synthetic marijuana or fake weed because some of its chemicals are similar to marijuana. At the same time, the effects are very different. Spice effects are often much more potent than those of marijuana.

The chemicals used in spice have high abuse potential, so these components are often illegal, but there are ways to get around this. The makers will use different chemicals in their products. Spice will often be disguised as incense. Marketing for these products describes it as natural and, as a result, harmless.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the reality.

Young people can use spice in rolling papers or make it into an herbal tea. Spice can also be a liquid in e-cigarettes.

The ingredients in spice attach to the same brain receptors as THC, which is the psychoactive component of marijuana. There can be serious side effects of using spice, including violence, hallucinations, and aggressive or confused behavior.

You can purchase spice online, in head shops, and even at truck stops.


The popularity of kratom has grown significantly in recent years. Kratom is a tropical tree native to Asia. The leaves have compounds with mind-altering effects similar to some street drugs. Medical professionals are warning parents about the risk of kratom, as is the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

Kratom is currently a legal substance at the federal level, and you can buy it at head shops or online. Kratom has effects similar to both opioids and stimulants, depending on the type and dose a person uses.

Two particular compounds interact with opioid receptors in the brain. When kratom is taken in more significant amounts, it increases energy and alertness.

The side effects of kratom can be uncomfortable or even dangerous.

Kratom can also cause dependence, meaning if someone stops taking it, they may go through withdrawal symptoms.

Synthetic Cathinone (Bath salts)

Synthetic cathinones are more familiar under the name of bath salts. These are human-made stimulants, and they can be incredibly dangerous. These are labeled bath salts, plant food, or sometimes jewelry cleaner.

These products are not the same as Epsom salt or similar bath salts.

Synthetic cathinones are known as new psychoactive substances or NPS. These are unregulated substances with mind-altering effects that have no legitimate medical uses. They are quickly introduced and reintroduced in the marketplace to get past law enforcement efforts to deal with the manufacture and sale.

Bath salts can lead to hallucinations, paranoia, panic attacks, agitation, and violence. Bath salts can raise the risk of serious mental health issues and even heart attacks. 

The issue with bath salts is that the federal government makes individual ingredients illegal, but makers can find a way around that.

legal ways to get high

Cough Syrup

Millions of people in the United States take cough and cold medicines every year. These are safe, effective medications when you use them as directed. However, some cough and cold medicines have mind-altering effects when misused at high doses.

There are two commonly misused cough and cold medicines.

The first is dextromethorphan or DXM cough syrup. DXM products are OTC and are also available as tablets and gel capsules. When you take higher than the recommended dose, it can cause you to feel high.

DXM is in dozens of cough and cold medicines. In large doses, it can create hallucinations and alter time perception. There is also a risk of taking large amounts of these medicines because of their other ingredients. For example, acetaminophen is an OTC pain reliever that can cause liver damage or failure in large quantities.

There’s also promethazine-codeine cough syrup. This cough syrup is actually a prescription medication but can be relatively easy to obtain or find around the house. This prescription medicine contains codeine, which is an opioid. At significant doses, it creates a high. Prescription cough medicines are often in pop culture and hip-hop music.

Mixing cough syrup with soda and candy is known as syrup or sizzurp. Using the combination has led to the hospitalization of several high-profile hip-hop artists.


Loperamide is the active ingredient in Imodium. Imodium is an anti-diarrhea drug. The abuse of loperamide is increasing in the U.S. At low doses, it’s a safe medication. At high doses, it can be dangerous and addictive.

When taken in large amounts, Loperamide can create a high similar to opioids. Some people use it when they’re already addicted to opioids to get high or prevent withdrawal.

At high doses, loperamide can cause heart and other health problems.

Caffeine Pills

Because of the everyday use of caffeine worldwide, we don’t think of it as being a psychoactive substance, but it is. Caffeine is a natural stimulant, and it increases dopamine signaling in the brain. You may feel more motivated, awake, and alert because of the effects of caffeine on dopamine levels.

Caffeine pills are something teens may abuse to create a high, but they can be toxic and cause serious side effects.

No-Doz is a particular example of an over-the-counter caffeine stimulant teens use. They may crush the pills and snort them or mix them with other stimulants to increase the high. Teens might also combine caffeine pills with marijuana or alcohol to stay awake and party for long periods.

Extremely high doses of caffeine, especially paired with other substances, can lead to heart palpitations and, in severe cases, cardiac arrest.


Popper is a slang term. Poppers refer to psychoactive chemical drugs. These drugs are alkyl nitrites, and especially one inhalant called amyl nitrite. Poppers are usually sold as room deodorizers.

When someone inhales them, it leads to an instant high, creating euphoric feelings, dizziness, and an increased heart rate.

Poppers are technically legal, although selling them for human consumption is not, which is why they’re marketed as room deodorizers or sometimes as leather cleaners.

Poppers are easy to get and cheap, which is why they’re frequently misused by teens who want to get high.

Prescription Drug Abuse

There are several prescription drugs, including opioids and benzodiazepines, that teens often get at home or from relatives and then go on to abuse.

It’s also important to remember that alcohol is one of the deadliest drugs, and while it’s not legal for teens, it is legal for adults despite the harmful effects.

Frequently, the legal ways teens get high are just as dangerous, if not more so, than using illegal drugs. If you’re concerned about your teen and recreational drugs that are legal or illegal drugs, please call 833-847-6984 to learn more about treatment programs from a Silver Lining Recovery care coordinator.