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What Are Designer Drugs and How Dangerous Are They?

Chane Leigh

by Chane Leigh

March 11, 2021 10:23 am ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
What Are Designer Drugs and How Dangerous Are They?

Designer drugs are mostly illegal since some of them have managed to make it through legal loopholes. These types of drugs are created to replicate the effects of illegal drugs but are able to avoid being classified as “illicit” because of their chemical makeup. However, these designer drugs are still dangerous, despite being depicted as safer than street drugs. 

What are Designer Drugs?

Designer drugs have been made by duplicating and changing parts of existing illicit drugs while attempting to maintain their effects. The drugs are synthetic and are created for dodging laws and bans on illicit drugs. While being said to be cheaper versions of the drugs they mimic, designer drugs are significantly more unpredictable in their effects which makes them all the more dangerous.  

The ingredients and potency of synthetic and designer drugs are impossible to be certain of. Designer drugs are unregulated yet often get referred to as “legal highs”. The Drug Enforcement Administration, or the DEA, explains that these types of drugs are also known as new psychoactive substances (NPS) and goes on to state that there are at least 300 known designer drugs, each of which belongs to one of the following three categories of NPS.

  1. Synthetic Cannabinoids
  2. Synthetic Cathinones 
  3. Synthetic Phenethylamines.

The makers of these drugs often use false labels to allow for marketing the products. The labels are often packaged like common products which can be found in the average household and may even state that it is not safe for consumption. The unclear legal status also helps make the designer drugs more appealing to consumers. They are said to get one high without the fear of consequences, including without fear of arrest. But what they fail to mention is the risks one is taking on the state of their health by consuming designer drugs. The following three types of designer drugs are seen as the most common:

Synthetic Cannabinoids Made to mimic the cannabinoids found in cannabis such as THC and CBD. These designer drugs go by street names such as Spice, K2, bliss, Scooby Snax. Risk: increased anxiety, violent behavior, seizure, hallucinations, paranoia
Synthetic Cathinones Made to mimic stimulants such as cocaine, MDMA, and methamphetamine. These designer drugs go by street names such as Bath Salts, Flakka, and Bizzard. Risk: paranoia, hallucinations, seizures, chest pains, suicidal thoughts, violent outbursts
Synthetic Phenethylamines Made to mimic hallucinogenic drugs and go by street names such as N-Bomb and Smiles. Risk: seizures, heart attack, and respiratory failure.

Synthetic Drugs Infographic

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Additionally, the DEA recognizes the following as types of designer drugs too: phyencyclindines or arlcylohexamines, tryptamines, piperazines, pipradrols, and n-ring systems. While these names do not roll off of the tongue, they are simply used as they represent the chemical structure of the substances, more often than not. 

Long-term Risks: 

One of the biggest dangers of designer drugs is their tendency to be unpredictable as a result of varying chemical compositions. There could even be chemical contaminants in the products such as rat poison. Remember that these drugs are being made with the least concern for your health and safety. Some common and potential effects associated with consuming them include the following:

  • Psychosis such as hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, etc
  • Induced depression
  • Increased anxiety
  • Changes in behavior leading to violent and aggressive behaviors
  • Muscle tensions and spasms
  • Increased heart rates
  • Chest pains
  • Addiction
  • Kidney failure
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts and life-threatening behavior
  • Overdose, coma, and death. 

This study, conducted by Dino Luethi and Matthias E. Liechti, explains that “the mechanism of action and adverse effects of designer drugs are similar to traditional drugs of abuse. Stimulants, such as amphetamines and cathinones, primarily interact with monoamine transporters” and that “dissociative designer drugs primarily act as N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor antagonists and pose similar health risks as the medically approved dissociative anesthetic ketamine” including that “cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptor is thought to drive the psychoactive effects of synthetic cannabinoids, which are associated with a less desirable effect profile and more severe adverse effects compared with cannabis”. The study goes on to explain that “Because of their novelty, designer drugs may remain undetected by routine drug screening, thus hampering evaluations of adverse effects.”

Cannabis-Based Designer Drugs

Fortunately for the cannabis industry, President Obama signed The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 which made it illegal to produce or sell any substances with mimic that of the cannabis cannabinoids, the same for synthetic hallucinogens. However, this has not stopped the production of drugs such as K2 or Spice. 

While the law can continue to take precautions and measures against designer drugs, laboratories will just continue to alter, or tweak, the chemical composition of the drugs so that they are technically not illegal. If you would like to know more about designer drugs made to mimic cannabis, be sure to check out Veriheal’s article on synthetic cannabinoids such as K2 and Spice as well as on the differences between botanical and synthetic terpenes

In terms of addiction, persons consuming products made to mimic cannabis can be highly addictive, just like the likes of heroin and cocaine. Consuming these kinds of drugs is never a good idea and can make one present with the worst of the risks after as little as just one time. Not to mention how easy it is to become addicted, which then leads to risking one’s life every time the designer drugs are consumed. Addiction to designer drugs is a serious condition and needs immediate medical attention in order to get proper treatment. 

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