What Is Synthetic Drug Abuse And How Is It Affecting Its Users?

What Is Synthetic Drug Abuse And How Is It Affecting Its Users?

Where Do Synthetic Drugs Come From?

The production of synthetic drugs, also known as designer drugs, requires chemical engineering to mock the effects of controlled substances. What distinguishes these drugs from drugs like heroin or cocaine, is that they are, for the most part, legal. Synthetic drug abuse is becoming a growing issue among teens and young adults. The health risks associated with consuming synthetic drugs are endless, due to their production process. In synthetic drugs there are numerous chemicals, generally unsafe for human consumption.

Synthetic drugs act similarly to a stimulant, hallucinogen, or depressant. Not to mention, the molecular structure of the drug is constantly changing due to the laws implicated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Synthetic drug makers need to alter their ingredients frequently in order to remain in retail stores and online as legal products.

How Are They Legal?

Despite the numerous health risks associated with synthetic drug abuse, these drugs still remain easily obtainable. The facts that contribute to their legality rely solely on the compounds that make the drug produce its desired effects. There are no organic drugs used in the creation of designer drugs, which makes it more difficult to ban them. While the FDA is not taking the production of synthetic drugs lightly, they are almost always unsuccessful at putting the production of these drugs to a complete stop.

Regardless of their extremely dangerous side effects, synthetic drugs are becoming increasingly popular.

Why is synthetic drug use so prevalent? There are many unclear reasons as to why synthetic drug abuse is becoming a common issue today. It could be that the buyer is lured in by packaging techniques. Retailers label their product as “not suitable for human consumption” to abide by FDA guidelines. They also use different terms like “potpourri” or “incense” to avoid punishment for selling products known to cause severe damage to the individual consuming them.

Another element of synthetic drugs is their lack of presence in drug tests. This is appealing to its users, especially individuals required to take urine screens but still want to feel “high”. This contributes to the increase of synthetic drug abuse among people living in sober homes or on probation.

Types of Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic drugs have a design to which mimics the effects of illicit drugs; they contain certain chemicals that do not derive from the actual illicit substance. Little knowledge of the source of these chemicals creates an alarmingly high number of risk factors relating to the consumption of designer drugs.

For example, spice or k2’s design is recognizable as producing similar effects to marijuana. However, spice does not contain any traces of THC, which is the main cause of the high associated with marijuana use. The types of synthetic drugs and the drugs that inspire their creation are:

  • Spice / k2 – marijuana
  • Bath Salts – MDMA, cocaine, methamphetamine
  • Fentanyl – morphine, heroin, benzodiazepines
  • Molly – ecstasy
  • NBOMe- acid, LSD
  • Flakka – cocaine, methamphetamine


Spice, or commonly referred to as k2 is a synthetic drug that creates the perception of being under the influence of marijuana. Spice is most commonly inhaled, like marijuana. It comes in packaging with labels such as “incense” or “potpourri”.

Bath Salts

Bath salts produce effects similar to ecstasy, cocaine, or meth. The compound in the production of bath salts and a few other synthetic drugs is cathinone. Bath salts are found in powder or crystal form and are ingested by snorting or swallowing the substance.


The purpose of fentanyl is to aid in the elimination of pain, similar to morphine or heroin. It is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is deadly due to its high potency in such low doses. The uses of fentanyl have become widely recognized as cutting agents in heroin, causing an overwhelming number of overdose cases.


Molly is the recreation of MDMA (ecstasy), producing effects similar to the “love drug”. Molly consumption is dangerous because it mimics the effects of many club drugs. Molly can inhabit the characteristics of LSD, cocaine, methamphetamines, and MDMA all at once. This leads to severe toxicity in the user.

Since the FDA has controlled and regulated a number of chemicals used in its production, its makers are creating new ones, leading to the rapid growth of molly and the chemicals that constitute to its effects. Molly is typically swallowed; however, it can also be injected or taken in tablet form.


Flakka produces similar effects to bath salts. There are a number of different compounds differentiating the two, overall, generating the same side-effects and health risks. In its early recognition, people called flakka the “zombie drug” due to the nasty side effects it had on one individual who consumed it. The user became extremely disoriented, acting in a manner that led to the nation wide concern of this drug.


NBOMe’s design is to produce hallucinogenic effects similar to those of LSD. A main component to what makes this drug so deadly is its different variations. Like fentanyl, the potency is extremely high in comparison to the size of a single dose. This product is typically sold in tabs that can be swallowed, inhaled, and can even be sold in liquid form for injection

What Are the Side Effects?

The side effects of synthetic drug abuse vary depending on the individual’s reaction to the substance. With all chemicals, synthetic or organic, an individual has an initial response after ingestion.There are cases of synthetic drugs causing major damage to an individual’s body and brain.

Some of the side effects a user will experience during the consumption of any synthetic drug consist of:

  • Rapid heart rate or breathing
  • Hypertension
  • Chest pain
  • Seizures
  • Intense cravings
  • Irrational behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Muscle pain
  • Acute agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Emotional fragility
  • Diminished cognitive ability

The negative side effects in association with synthetic drug abuse outweigh the “euphoric” effects of the drug. There seems to be an increase in a number of near fatal occurrences associated with synthetic drug use. Although some chemicals used in the production of synthetic drugs are illegal, there is a misconception about partaking in the consumption of this chemically engineered drug class.

Synthetic Drugs Vs. Controlled Substances

Although synthetic drugs do not carry the reputation of better-known illegal substances, they are not exempt from abuse. Synthetic drugs fail to appear in drug tests, which is one of the reasons they gain popularity. Also, the age group of individuals participating in the use of synthetic drugs is typically teenagers and young adults. Young, inexperienced individuals are often easily misguided by propaganda. The allure of synthetic drugs and their legal state provide, even more, reasons to why they are a “safer alternative”.

According to national statistics on synthetic drug abuse, they are no safer than illegal drug use. In fact, synthetic drugs prove to be as harmful if not more harmful than their counterparts.

There have been a small number of studies conducted on the effects of synthetic drugs, due to their ever-changing purity as well as the chemicals that design the drug. Since the FDA is constantly trying to shut down the manufacturing of these drugs, its creators are always changing the molecular level of the drug. This creates a more difficult situation to those conducting the studies, because no one ever really knows what is truly in synthetic drugs.

Without clear knowledge of the chemicals people suffering from synthetic drug abuse are ingesting, it becomes hard to treat. The most difficult action in treating the abuse of synthetic drugs is finding a medication to combat both physical and mental withdrawal symptoms.

How to Treat Synthetic Drug Abuse?

Treating synthetic drug abuse may appear difficult due to its lack of impurity and knowledge of the chemicals used in the substance. If health care professionals are unaware of what is triggering addiction, understanding what steps are necessary for recovery could seem mildly confusing. However, gaining experience due to the rising use of synthetic drugs gives rehabilitation facilities a stronger understanding of what exactly they are dealing with.

With any addiction, there is a specific structure set to help guide addicts into recovery and transition them to an everyday lifestyle. While the treatment model does not change, the detoxification process may differ slightly with limited resources to combat synthetic drug withdrawal and the symptoms associated with it.

After individuals undergo detox for their synthetic drug abuse, they will continue cognitive behavioral treatment to help prevent them from future drug use. Cognitive behavioral therapy will help most with curbing the individual’s cravings, assessing why they use, and helping the individual develop coping skills to aid in a stronger recovery.

Struggling With Addiction?

Synthetic drug abuse is not to treated differently than the abuse of an illicit substance. Despite difficulties in assessing the routes necessary to treat synthetic drug dependence, there are alternatives to any drug abuse. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, the trained medical staff at California Highlands Addiction Treatment is available 24/7 to help you regain control of your life. We’re here to show you recovery is possible. If you’ve had enough of the mental and physical complications of addiction call (888) 969 – 8755.

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