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The Myths and Facts of Designer Drugs

Designer drugs often start as attractive alternatives to controlled substances, created in clandestine labs. It’s usually not long before they are banned but not before making waves in drug culture.

The term is heard on the news and in every TV procedural crime drama. Some new designer drug has hit the streets and is wreaking havoc on the city. According to pop culture, these drugs will either kill you instantly or turn you into a dangerous, raving lunatic. In reality, designer drugs, like other drugs, will likely have a slower but sinister impact on your life. As addiction, health problems, and mental disorders result from drug abuse, the consequences may not kill you instantly, but they will invade every aspect of your life which, eventually, might kill you.

To understand the real threat of designer drugs, it’s important to separate fact from fiction and take a sober look at the synthetic drugs that are hitting the street.

What are Designer Drugs?

Designer drugs are synthetic chemical substances that are designed to mimic existing controlled substances, while some added benefits and effects. Synthetic drugs are created in labs rather than found in nature, like cannabis. Although many of the substances in designer drugs are variations of naturally occurring chemicals, they are man-made.

Sometimes designer drugs are created to maximize benefits while minimizing negative side effects. Synthesizing designer drugs might even be done in legal laboratories, experimenting with therapeutic effects of chemicals derived from known psychoactive substances.

In other cases, designer drugs are created in illegal underground laboratories, with the intention of circumventing the law. Controlled substances are difficult to move and sell, so criminal organizations will tamper with the chemical compound to create a new, technically legal, drug that offers similar effects to existing street drugs.

These drugs are sold in gray markets, or legally ambiguous settings. However, even if a designer drug is technically legal in some jurisdictions, they do not maintain that status for long. In the United States, the Federal Analogue Act was passed to preemptively classify any designer drugs as a Schedule I or II drug.

In some cases, designer drugs can even beat drug screens. For instance, the 2C family of drugs, which are powerful psychedelics, are difficult to detect in standard drug tests because they yield inaccurate results.

What are Bath Salts?

No, not the minerals you poor into the water to give your skin a healthy glow. “Bath salts” is a street name given to designer drugs that are sold and disguised as a normal everyday product. The term bath salts came from the fact that black and gray market sellers would package recreational drugs, like methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), as normal water soluble bath salts. In the UK, similar activity resulted in the name “plant food”.

The term bath salts made its way into the public eye in this decade when a string of violent crimes was believed to be caused by designer drugs in 2012. However, it should be noted that “bath salts” is a term that is used to describe designer drugs in general, rather than one particular drug.

Are Zombie Drugs Real?

In 2012, when stories were breaking about dangerous bath salts turning into a zombie apocalypse, one disturbing story came out of Miami about a man who, apparently high on a new designer drug, attacked a homeless man and began to cannibalize his victim. The drug was later named as bath salts and is closely related to flakka. Flakka was also implicated in more crimes in 2016. One such crime involved a similar situation in which a 19-year-old student killed a couple and began to chew on one of them. It was later determined that he was not on flakka but was probably suffering from a schizophrenic episode.

As drugs like flakka offer cheap alternatives to cocaine and meth, users continue to experiment with them despite reports of their volatile nature. Some users take these designer drugs unknowingly and suffer lasting consequences.

Many of the violent crimes where flakka is thought to be involved were found to be psychotic episodes or a combination of mental illness and drug use. However, flakka does cause severe paranoia and might cause long term psychosis according to one study.

Since onset of these incidents, a variety of synthetic drugs have been labeled “zombie drugs,” because they cause increased paranoia and unresponsive behavior. While situations of violent attacks are rare, stimulants that cause hallucinations, paranoia, and panic are dangerous.

While natural psychedelics like DMT can cause similar symptoms, users often feel relaxed or lose some motor function. Even if they have nightmarish trips, they typically stay where they are. With a powerful stimulant in your system, panic can lead to running outside or putting yourself in dangerous situations.

Effects of Designer Drugs are Difficult to Predict

There are countless designer drugs in every category with dozens of variations on each kind. This can make them dangerous and unpredictable. If users are looking for a psychedelic high and a friend or dealer hands them a pill, it could be one of a hundred designer drugs in that category. Because of this, the effects and proper dosage can be impossible to know. Then, if that user is admitted to the hospital with overdose symptoms, it can be difficult to identify the drug and treat the withdrawals.

For instance, if you believe you’ve purchased the synthetic psychedelic drug 2C-I, you might try a dosage of 3 to 5 mg. If that drug was actually (the similar) 2C-I-NBOMe, you would have taken a dangerously high dose. In fact, this particular overdose has happened many times before.

Synthetic cannabis, also known as K2 or Spice, was a designer drug that was developed for research purposes. However, it’s legal status allowed it to subvert anti-marijuana laws. However, its effects are generally more dangerous and has lead to a number of serious health complications. Adverse effects vary widely based on the particular chemical compound but can include:

  • Hypertension
  • Tachycardia
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Agitation
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychoses
  • Seizures
  • Convulsions

It doesn’t stop with cannabinoids and psychedelics. There are also designer empathogens (like ecstasy), stimulants, dissociatives, sedatives, and many other substances. Again, though several of these chemical compounds were synthesized for research purposes, many have made their way onto the street.

Stop Struggling with Designer Drugs

Designer drugs are often cheap, powerful, and sometimes legal, but they represent a significant threat to users, law enforcement, and medical professionals. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or abuse give our professional staff at California Highlands Addiction Treatment a call today at (888) 969-8755. We are available around the clock to help you find the next step toward recovery.