CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Police are warning residents about an unexpected substance some teens are using to get high.
It's an exotic food that's not so hard to find: betel nuts. People chew on them to get high. It's supposedly like a combination of tobacco and a lot of caffeine, but it can be dangerous.
Betel nuts are found across Asia, growing in palm trees. They're used so widely, they're one of the most popular mind-altering substances in the world.
Recently they wound up in a high school in Reynoldsburg near Columbus.
The betel nut is not a controlled substance, but it can be illegal to import, especially wholesale. When they are chewed, the nuts give users a rush of stamina and euphoria. Excessive chewing causes discolored or even loss of teeth and oral cancer. The World Health Organization has labeled it a carcinogen.
Betel nuts aren't very hard to find in Cleveland. At the first place Cleveland 19 checked, a dried package was available for a few dollars. It's a product of Thailand with no warnings on the package.
Besides finding the nuts at international markets, people can buy them online on websites like eBay and even Etsy.
Cleveland 19 checked with Cleveland and Akron Police Departments and they did not know of any local cases. The Cuyahoga County Board of Health tells us they have heard of it, but "there is no evidence of local activity."
According to the BBC, the betel nut is a key part of many Asian cultures.
The World Health Organization estimates around 600 million people use some form of it.