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The increasing number of designer drugs has put Americans at risk. The 2013 World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) revealed that the abuse of illicit substances continues to grow and more synthetic drugs find their way in the market. In this article, we will discuss the different kinds of designer drugs.


Designer drugs are substances that are manufactured in a laboratory. The manufacturers change the properties of a drug using the tools of chemistry. These substances may not be subjected to quality control standards or governmental oversight.

Designer drugs are manufactured in a different way other drugs are normally created. Should the government regulate an ingredient or element, the manufacturers would change things again so as not to be arrested. But just like other drugs, designer drugs are capable of altering the functions of the human brain.


Designer drugs are actually not new. Back in the 19th century, a lot of these kinds of drugs were being designed. In 1803, German pharmacist F.W. Serturner separated morphine from opium. In 1855, a chemist named Edeleano isolated cocaine from the coca bush. The isolation and combination of drugs have resulted to the production of new uppers, downers, tranquilizers, and painkillers.

Today, these substances are very common and popular. However, they were once unknown substances that no one dared to study about.

The most popular example of designer drugs is ecstasy. This substance was the result of the synthesis of MDA and MMDA, both illegal drugs. Derived from the oil of nutmeg, these two substances can have various adverse effects such as headache, dizziness, and abnormally fast heart rate, to name just a few.

After ecstasy was outlawed, a new alteration of MMDA called “eve” was born.


As new drugs are discovered, drug manufacturers will continue to change the form of the drug and the health of the public will continue to be at risk.

Take the case of fentanyl, which is also known as “China White.” This substance has around 1,400 possible chemical alterations. While some of them are used for medicinal purposes in the operating room, fentanyl used in the streets as a synthetic heroin has been linked to more than a hundred deaths on a yearly basis due to its strength. This substance is so lethal that it can be placed on the head of a pin to kill 50 people.

Another highly lethal designer drug is MPTP. This heroin-like drug has resulted to more than 400 cases of Parkinson’s disease, which can permanently disable those that are affected.

These efforts to alter the composition of a drug can produce the same effects and dangers of illegal drugs. Drug manufacturers are doing this to prevent prosecution.


In July 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a law banning designer drugs to cover 26 chemicals commonly used in manufacturing synthetic drugs. Even then, designer drugs continued to become popular. In the last four years, more than 300 different designer drugs have entered the market and wreaked havoc in communities.

Most suppliers have the ability to change the chemical formula of a drug so that it will not contain illegal chemicals, thereby allowing them to sell drugs legally. Most drugs of this kind are constantly changing form and remain unregulated in the online market. It would take government initiatives in countries that manufacture drugs to stop the manufacture and distribution of these synthetic drugs.

If not regulated online, the public can easily access these synthetic drugs. Local government leaders must take the necessary steps to counter the spread of synthetic drugs. One effective measure is by educating their constituents about the dangers of synthetic drugs. They can also provide proper addiction and rehabilitation treatment, and making individuals and establishments that sell illegal substances liable.

According to recent statistics, a total of 200 search and arrest warrants related to synthetic drugs have been issued by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and from that number, 150 were arrested. Aside from that, roughly $200 million in cash and assets were seized. These figures were derived from the 2012 Monitoring the Future Survey of the Drug Abuse Network.


The following people are likely to abuse synthetic drugs:


Teenagers aged 12 to 17 years old are susceptible to synthetic drug abuse. They are likely to try out these drugs due to their gullibility and curiosity.


People who are recovering from drug abuse will look at synthetic versions as an alternative to illegal drugs. Given the volatile potency of designer drugs, they could be trying something more potent than what they are recovering from.


Synthetic drugs are very accessible in prison and the temptation to try them out can be very strong among convicted individuals.


Here are some of the most common kinds of designer drugs, and how each substance can affect human health:


Synthetic cannabinoids are falsely marketed as a safe and legal alternative to marijuana. Popularly known as Spice or K2, these substances are sold together with other tobacco products. These designer drugs also goes by popular names such as Yucatan Fire, Skunk, and Moon Rocks.

Synthetic cannabinoids are sold in huge amounts online to dealers in the United States who in turn repackage them for individual selling. This is considered the second most abused drug among high school students next to marijuana. They contain harmful chemical additives that may lead to rapid heart rate, paranoia, vomiting, hallucinations, and heart attack due to limited supply of blood to the heart.

Since they have a “not for human consumption” label, they are not covered by any legal regulations that govern drugs, even though they are more potent than illegal drugs.

All cannabinoids, which include the synthetic compounds in Spice, are classified together with marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. However, manufacturers of the drug have managed to stay legal by slightly altering the chemical structure in order to create a new compound, which has not yet been classified as illegal.

Because the chemical composition of synthetic marijuana is constantly changing, there is very little data on its effects on the human body. However, those who have abused the synthetic drug have reported various symptoms such as rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, and hallucinations.

Aside from that, synthetic cannabinoids have also been known to increase blood pressure. In a few instances, it has also been linked to heart attacks.


Chemical structure of AMT

Alpha-Methytryptamine (AMT) was first developed in the 1960s as an anti-depressant. As a psychedelic and stimulant drug, the drug is known for creating a feeling of euphoria and hallucinations just like MDMA or LSD even though the chemicals are structurally unrelated. Although still legal in Canada and the UK, aMT was permanently classified as a Schedule 1 drug. It is easily accessible online where it is being sold as a “health supplement.”

Another good example of a psychedelic drug is N-bomb, found in the drug LSD. These are lethal hallucinogens that come in either liquid or powdered form.

Synthetic psychedelics can also be inhaled, injected, or used as a suppository. Small quantities of the drug can last for more than 12 hours.


Synthetic cocaine is readily available and legal in most countries. It is being sold on the Internet as a “research chemical” or as a “plant food.” It is known by several names such as Mind Melt, Amplified, or Mint Mania.


Commonly known as bath salts, synthetic cathinones go by different names such as Arctic Blast, Blue Silk, and Monkey Dust. Bath salts have emerged as a serious and growing public health and safety concern.

When in crystalline form, it is similar to amphetamines and may lead to elevated blood pressure, agitation, hallucinations, and excited delirium.


Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and ketamine are easily accessible. They are usually injected but ketamine comes in smoke or sniff varieties. They are associated with unpredictable and more severe side effects than the opioids where they came from.

Ketamine is popularly called Vitamin K on the street.


Synthetic sedatives are known by different street names such as barbies, blue devils, pink ladies, sleepers, and barbiturates. They are classified as a depressant-type drugs. They are used to alleviate symptoms of tensions and anxiety by bringing the user into a calm and relaxed state.

Synthetic sedatives are classified as Class B narcotics.


Originally developed for the treatment of parasitic infections, synthetic piperazines have allegedly caused the euphoric feeling to the users just like amphetamine and MDMA. They are usually marketed as herbal ecstasy.


Dissociatives goes by many street names: acid, blotter, doses, hits, microdots, among others. LSD is a good example of this drug. It is a clear, white, odorless, and water soluble material derived from lysergic acid.

Dissociative drugs may be used as a medical anesthetic. It has euphoric properties that can make the user addicted to it. This type of drugs can be gaseous, liquid, or as a powder, and is designed for medicinal and culinary purposes.


Anabolic steroids may be administered through injection.

Synthetic androgens have become infamous as performance-enhancing drugs. The most common example is anabolic androgenic steroids. To veer away from prosecution, these substances are marketed as nutritional supplements.

In the absence of clinical studies, there is little information about the pharmacological effects and metabolism of unapproved steroids. Strict regulations and improved education is needed.


From the name itself, synthetic empathogens produce experiences of empathy or sympathy such as oneness, relatedness, or emotional openness. They are psychoactive drugs that are different from hallucinogens, amphetamine, or stimulants.


Also called smart drugs, nootropics are designed for enhancing cognitive functions, particularly executive, memory, creativity, or motivation of healthy individuals. Coined in 1972 by Corneliu Giurgea, a psychologist and chemist, nootropics came from the Greek words νους nous meaning “mind” and τρέπεινtrepein which means “to bend or turn”.

In 2015, sales of cognition-enhancing supplements breached the US$1 billion mark.


With synthetic drug use continuing to grow, there is a need for world governments and individuals to be more vigilant. Proper education needs to be strictly enforced, and regulations needs to be put in place.

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