Law enforcement authorities in Miami believe that synthetic bath salts, such as Cloud Nine, could be trigger the urge for zombie-like taste in its users as it attempts to solve a bizarre case involving a person chewing off a homeless man's face before being shot dead by the police
"We have to wait for the tox (toxicology) reports to say that for sure," Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said Thursday as national media shine a spotlight on Cloud Nine and other similar drugs.
"But certainly, you do see a lot of this kind of bizarre behavior," she told AFP. "These chemicals are very dangerous. You'll find people who use them who will say, 'Boy, I'm never doing that again. That was scary'."
Cloud Nine is one of many appellations -- others are Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky and White Lightning -- for synthetic stimulants known as "bath salts" containing derivatives of a brain stimulant called cathinone.
Now banned in several states, and listed as a controlled substance by the DEA since October 2011, Cloud Nine could previously be legally purchased in "head shops" selling drug paraphernalia, convenience stores and gas stations, as well as online.
"It would sell for between 18 to 40 dollars per unit," TG, who works at a head shop in downtown Washington that used to sell Cloud Nine, told AFP on condition that his full name not be used.
Who bought it? "Homeless guys, lawyers, anyone, from 18 to 75," he said. "That was the strange part. They figured it was something that could alter their minds without breaking the law."
TG never used Cloud Nine himself, but from others who did, he said, "I've heard of varying effects from relaxation to mild seizures."
In a fact sheet, the DEA lists potential effects as "agitation, insomnia, irritability, dizziness, depression, paranoia, delusions, suicidal thoughts, seizures and panic attacks."
Cannibalism didn't make the cut. But police in Miami suspect Rudy Eugene, 31, was high on "bath salts" when he tried to bite the face off of a barely conscious homeless man before he was shot and killed.
In another incident, also in Miami, a 21-year-old man, allegedly on Cloud Nine, burst into a restaurant shouting obscenities, and tried to bite the hand off a police officer.
"Please be careful when dealing with the homeless population," the North Miami Beach police department told its officers. It also urged the public to immediately report anyone who might be on Cloud Nine.
Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana state poison center and an expert on synthetic drugs, said "bath salts" -- made with imported chemicals -- first appeared in the United States in 2010, "and then in 2011, it just went nuts."
"We went from 300-plus cases reported across the United States to poison centers in 2010 to over 6,000 in 2011," he told AFP in a telephone interview.
"And all the cases don't get reported to poison centers, so that probably represents maybe 25 percent of what was really out there."
Ryan recalled cases in which Cloud Nine led to "naked people jumping out windows and climbing flag poles" and, in Louisiana, a suicide in which the victim shot himself a day after trying to slit his own throat.
"We had (another) report from police of a guy barricaded in the attic of his home with a shotgun, saying: 'There are aliens up here. I've got to kill them before they can get me and my family'," Ryan said.
"Then there was somebody who went out into the yard and turned around and began shooting at the house because there were 'demons' in there."
"We've seen a number of quite bizarre things happening," Ryan said, so the notion of someone on Cloud Nine developing a taste for human flesh "is definitely in the realm of possibility."