What Are The Dangers of Synthetic/Designer Drugs?

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What Are The Dangers of Synthetic/Designer Drugs?

Synthetic/designer drugs are increasingly common in the United States. They can often be found at parties or clubs, especially on college campuses. An alarming recent trend has shown children in high schools across the nation being hospitalized for the adverse effects of synthetic drug use. These dangerous and addictive substances should be regarded with serious caution, as they can have a lasting negative effect on your mental and physical health. 

What Are Synthetic/Designer Drugs?

Synthetic/designer drugs, also known as club drugs, are chemicals created in labs meant to mimic the effect of other substances, such as marijuana, cocaine, morphine, and LSD. Most synthetic drugs are controlled under federal law, which makes manufacturing, distributing, or possessing them a prosecutable offense. This is why designer drugs are typically produced outside the United States and smuggled in illegally. 

Currently, upwards of 200 synthetic drug compounds are identified in the US. Some of them may even go by familiar names, such as fentanyl, which is a powerful synthetic opioid sometimes prescribed to treat severe pain. There are many different kinds of designer drugs to be aware of, including the following:

  • Cannabinoids (synthetic), or synthetic marijuana, are chemicals sprayed onto plant matter meant to mimic the effects of marijuana consumption. 
  • Cathinones (synthetic) are chemical stimulants with amphetamine-like properties. They may mimic the effects of Adderall, MDMA, or meth. Common names for them are “bath salts” or “molly.”
  • Synthetic LSD is the chemical compound phenethylamine, which can cause hallucinations and paranoia. This is sometimes called “smiles” or “N-bombs.”
  • Synthetic PCP is made from methoxamine, which can cause delusions, psychosis, derealization, and depersonalization. It is often passed off as regular PCP.  

Who Uses Synthetic/Designer Drugs?

Young people, especially students, are the most common population to use synthetic/designer drugs. According to the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, 60% of people admitted to the hospital for the use of synthetic cannabinoids are between the ages of 12 and 20 years old. 

Young people are especially vulnerable to designer drugs because of their accessibility and marketing. They’re often sold in colorful bags with fun designs that make them almost look like candy. Sometimes, they’re even available at gas stations or convenience stores and passed off as “incense,” “bath salts,” or “potpourri.” 

Distributors and manufacturers may even imply that these substances are legal, but don’t be fooled. If you look closely at the packaging, you’ll probably find a warning saying, “Not intended for human consumption.” This loophole is used to get around the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations. 

Synthetic/designer drugs are also typically cheaper than real drugs, making them both more appealing and more accessible to young people. A common designer drug for students to use is “speed.” Speed is a synthetic cathinone, chemically related to amphetamines, which gives a similar effect to Adderall. Those who use speed typically feel a burst of energy and euphoric emotions. Students may start out taking speed to stay awake for long periods of time to study, but this substance is addictive and can lead to substance use disorder (SUD). 

The Mental and Physical Effects of Synthetic/Designer Drugs

Any substance consumption can be dangerous and should be approached with caution. Synthetic/designer drugs are particularly dangerous because of the ambiguity of their contents. Individuals who use these drugs are often unaware of the specific chemical compounds in designer drugs, and distributors may even lie about what a substance is. This makes people who use synthetic drugs especially susceptible to addiction and overdose. 

Even when taken in small dosages, consumption of synthetic drugs can cause a variety of harmful and scary symptoms, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Psychosis or psychotic episodes
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Hallucinations and delusions

In some of the worst-case scenarios of synthetic drug use, individuals have harmed or killed themselves or others, including family members and loved ones. Though they may be marketed as fun and harmless, the effects can be detrimental. In the long term, synthetic drug use can lead to dependence and SUD. 

Effective Treatment Options

If an individual is struggling with the use of synthetic/designer drugs, there are treatment options available to help. Seeking treatment from mental health professionals and addiction specialists is crucial in treating SUD. There are a variety of programs available to help individuals jump-start their recovery, from sober living homes to outpatient treatment.