Many intoxicating substances are natural, meaning that the plant material from which they are derived can be found in nature, and no human intervention is required to produce desirable effects. These include opium poppies (codeine, thebaine, morphine), coca leaves, psilocybin mushrooms, and marijuana.
However, other drugs are entirely synthetic, which means they are developed using human-made chemicals, and not wholly derived from natural ingredients. For example, synthetic cannabinoids, such as K2 and Spice, MDMA (ecstasy), and bath salts (cathinones) are all types of synthetic substances, also commonly known as “designer drugs.”
Because synthetic drugs are often produced in illicit, clandestine labs to circumvent regulations prohibiting controlled substances, their potency and composition are often unknown to the user. Their use can be hazardous and lead to abuse, dependence, addiction, severe health consequences, and death.
Types of Synthetic Drugs
The term “designer drugs” refers to substances created in a lab to mimic a drug’s pharmacological effects. Manufacturers may design these drugs with slightly different molecular structures to avoid having them banning them at the federal level. The term can apply to nearly every synthetic drug, but it is most often used to refer to drugs used for recreational and non-medical purposes.
New designer drugs frequently enter the illicit drug market, and many of these were manufactured abroad, especially in China. Many designer drugs can be purchased using the Internet and on the black market. They are frequently marketed as bath salts, herbal smoking blends, or plant food to circumvent the law further.
Kinds of Designer Drugs
The following list is not, by any means, complete but intended to include the most commonly used substances considered to be “designer.”
Like many designer drugs, synthetic marijuana comes in in different forms and is marketed by many names such as K2, Spice, fake pot, legal weed, and others. To make these products, active ingredients are sprayed onto dried plant material and herbs. Unlike marijuana, which contains THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), synthetic marijuana principally consists of synthetic cannabinoids intended to resemble the effects of cannabis.
There are hundreds of known chemical forms of synthetic cannabinoids, and the substance can vary significantly between batches. Also, because synthetic marijuana is often falsely advertised as being natural and safe to use, many users erroneously believe that it is no more risky than naturally-occurring marijuana, which could not be further from the truth.
Designer stimulants are intended to simulate the effects of cocaine and hallucinogenic drugs. Two common examples are bath salts (synthetic cathinones) and MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine), also referred to as “ecstasy” or “molly.”
These intoxicating substances can produce many adverse effects, including addiction, paranoia, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, panic attacks, and even death.
3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, commonly known as Ecstasy and Molly, is a psychoactive substance most often used as a recreational “club” or “party drug.” Use is most prevalent among teens and young adults in party, club, and social settings.
Since the late 1980s, however, the term “ecstasy” has also become a marketing tactic that refers to drugs that may, in fact, contain little to no MDMA. MDMA has been known to produce adverse effects in its own right. Still, substances sold as ecstasy today may include any number of intoxicating substances (e.g., amphetamine or LSD) and potentially toxic additives, such as rat poison.
Despite the cute and colorful logos manufacturers place pills or powder, a potential user can never know what chemicals they are ingesting. The dangers are multiplied when individuals increase the dose or combine it with other substances such as alcohol, unaware that they may have consumed entirely different products.
Cathinone is an intoxicant derived from the khat plant native to Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen, and other countries in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. It is a mild but addictive stimulant released into the body when the plant’s leaves are chewed and swallowed. Notably, trafficking of this plant is fairly limited because the psychoactive ingredients lose many of their stimulating properties shortly after they are harvested.
Synthetic cathinones are created in a lab but do closely resemble the intoxicating qualities of the khat plant. Drugs in this class include methylone, mephedrone, and 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). These are the principal ingredients found in drugs commonly marketed as “bath salts, which are not intended to be used for bathing, and instead are only labeled and marked this way to avoid certain drug laws.
LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide)
LSD, first discovered in 1938, is a powerful hallucinogen. It is synthetically produced from lysergic acid found in ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. It is so potent that individuals usually only ingest doses in the microgram range.
LSD effects, which are often referred to as a “trip,” can be stimulating, pleasant, mind-altering, and produce hallucinations. However, use can also lead to undesirable, sometimes terrifying experiences, also referred to as a “bad trip.”
LSD is typically produced in a crystalline form and then mixed with other inactive ingredients or liquified for use in consumable forms. These forms include LSD soaked onto sheets of paper or thin squares of gelatin, also known as window panes.
GHB is also known on the street as “liquid ecstasy,” and its analogs are commonly used as party and “date rape” drugs. The designer analogs of GHB have a somewhat chemical structure but convert into GHB as they are broken down in the body.
GHB is a depressant that can induce euphoria, drowsiness, and lead to unconsciousness. Because it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, the drug can be easily be added to drinks, such as alcohol, to sedate and incapacitate potential victims.
The effects of ketamine (Special K) can be listed under many classes, including a depressant, an anesthetic, a date rape drug, an analgesic, and a hallucinogen. It is a derivative of another more potent designer drug, PCP (also known as angel dust), which is no longer often a drug of abuse. Ketamine’s effects are typically milder in intensity and shorter in duration than PCP.
Ketamine is probably best known for its ability to produce feelings of dissociation or intense out-of-body experiences and disconnectedness with oneself, others, and the environment. These experiences, sensory distortion, and associated memory impairments also make it a popular date rape drug.
Acetylfentanyl is an opioid analgesic that is an analog of fentanyl. Acetylfentanyl is much more potent than morphine and has never been approved for legitimate medical use. Since its inception, it has only been sold on the street as a designer drug. Acetylfentanyl was discovered simultaneously as fentanyl itself and, until recent years, had rarely been found on the illicit drug market.
Common side effects of fentanyl analogs are identical to those of fentanyl, including itching, nausea, and potentially life-threatening respiratory depression. In recent years, fentanyl analogs have been involved in the deaths of thousands of individuals in the United States alone.
Getting Treatment for Drug Addiction
If you are currently abusing drugs, alcohol, or other intoxicating substances, we urge you to seek treatment as soon as possible. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers employ an integrated approach to addiction treatment that includes essential therapeutic services, such as psychotherapy, psychoeducation, counseling, group support, mindfulness therapy, and more.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers are staffed with caring addiction professionals who deliver these services to those we treat with compassion and expertise. Our staff aims to provide each individual with the skills, knowledge, education, and support they need to achieve abstinence and foster long-lasting wellness and sobriety.