Minnesota legislators listened to accounts Wednesday of the spreading popularity of synthetic drugs among young people despite evidence that they cause addiction, seizures and lasting psychological damage.

"We are seeing effects we never saw before," including nausea, paranoia and convulsions, Dr. Marc Conterato told a joint Senate-House hearing. "Some of the symptoms don't go away," said Conterato, an emergency medicine physician at North Memorial Medical Center.

The hearing, while planned well in advance, came in the wake of Tuesday's verdict in the federal trial of Jim Carlson, a Duluth head shop owner who was convicted of 51 counts for the sale of synthetic drugs.

Legislators are considering new measures to curb synthetic drug sales and an educational campaign directed at young people and parents.

The hearing was led by Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, who is heading a special select committee on synthetic drugs. The panel will issue a report to the Legislature in February that Simonson said could include proposals for legislation as well as for an educational campaign.

Dave Hartford, an assistant commissioner in the state Department of Human Services, testified that eight state agencies have been holding monthly meetings to develop a statewide substance abuse strategy. Some 20,000 brochures on synthetic drugs have been distributed, he said, and there is a plan to launch a website by December 2014 that will give adults and parents information on the dangers of the drugs.

One difficulty in outlawing synthetic drugs is that once one substance is banned, a similar one goes on the market, legislators were told.

Following the hearing, Simonson said he favors a bill, modeled after a law passed in Indiana, that would ban "look-alike substances."

The Indiana law is now being challenged in federal court and its fate is being watched closely, Simonson said.

Randy Furst