Designer Drugs and Their Effects


Designer drugs are created to chemically mimic illicit drugs. They are also known as synthetic drugs, research drugs, or club drugs.

In many situations, there is no legal regulation of designer drugs, which are commonly marketed as herbal remedies, and there is no oversight of the production processes that go into their creation. Since medication manufacturers frequently alter the chemical structure to evade drug restrictions, they can be purchased legitimately. As they are known on the black market, two examples are spice and bath salts. It has been shown that specifically created synthetic drugs are more potent and dangerous than street drugs. Due to its similar effects to cocaine and marijuana, bath salts and spice are frequently used inappropriately and have both been associated with numerous fatalities.

Figure 1 Drugs

Designer synthetic chemical drugs can cause anxiety, convulsions, hallucinations, loss of consciousness, and serious organ damage, etc.

Because synthetic stimulants and hallucinogens may replicate the effects of cocaine, LSD, MDMA, and methamphetamines, their use has increased recently.  The potential for misuse and toxicity of one chemical derivative was discovered to be greatly increased by acting 50 times more potently than cocaine. They are widely available in stores and online and are particularly well-liked by teenagers, this makes them even dangerous. As a result, there are more E.R. visits due to designer drugs.

Designer drugs have been used in a variety of ways throughout history. Opium derivatives were among of the first types of designer drugs. For instance, heroin was a morphine alkaloid that was isolated from the opium plant that had undergone chemical modification. Legislators back then attempted to come up with a solution to limit the widespread usage of these early synthetics. Prior to the drug being declared illegal by the federal government, taxes were first imposed in the U.S. in an effort to reduce opium use. After 8 years, the Controlled Substance Act was created as a way to bring together different laws intended to govern some of these illegal drugs. It provides a method for substances to be added, eliminated, or moved between categories.

In recent years, Asia’s synthetic drug problem has gotten much worse and turned into a serious menace to human security. Global worry over the growth of the market for synthetic drugs, including amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and novel psychoactive substances (NPS), such as strong synthetic opioids, is rising.

Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), which include amphetamine, methamphetamine, “ecstasy,” and prescription stimulants, have seen a substantial increase in trafficking, according to the most recent World Drug Report from UNODC. In addition, the UNODC Early Warning Advisory, which has been assisting the Governments, laboratories, and partner organisations in combating this menace, reports that the number of new psychoactive substances (NPS), including potent synthetic opioids, reported by Member States continues to rise and reached 1124 as of December 2021.

The NDPS Act and the Drugs & Cosmetic Acts were used by the Indian government to empower several agencies, including the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), and to arm them with strong laws. Additionally, NCB created the “URN portal” for required registration of the user firms for Schedule “A” substances in 2013, which attempts to control offers for sale and mediate in the sale or purchase of Schedule “A” substances through websites, social media, or any other method.

However, since their manufacturers work to remain one step ahead of the law enforcement organisations, designer drugs have continued to develop throughout time.

In contrast to those natural drugs, synthetic drugs like K2, MDMA, or bath salts are all derived from man-made substances and are frequently created in a laboratories.  One of the first classes of designer drugs were substances derived from opium. For instance, heroin was a chemically modified form of the morphine alkaloid that was extracted from the poppy plant.

The Synthetic Drug Strategy, a framework to assist nations in creating solutions based on facts and research, was introduced by UNODC in November 2021. The plan of action consists of four areas of focus: multilateralism and international collaboration, early warning on hazards from increasing synthetic drug supply, fostering scientifically informed health responses, and boosting counternarcotic interventions. Due to the dynamic nature of the illicit synthetic drug market, it is crucial that nations establish early warning systems in order to stay on top of recent events in the area and swiftly react to new threats.

Natural vs. Designer Drugs

A Designer drug is a chemical drug that is created in a laboratory. Designer drugs, as opposed to natural drugs, are man-made compounds, some of which are legal. As previously stated, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are authorised for the treatment of severe pain. In this situation, the substance has medical properties. When this same synthetic substance is illegally made and combined with other drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, users are at a greater risk of overdose fatality.

When comparing natural vs. synthetic drugs, consider the following:

• Natural drugs include opium, mushrooms, and marijuana.

Figure 2. Smoking

• Synthetic drugs include cocaine, ecstasy, fentanyl, and bath salts.

A wide range of drugs are included in synthetic drugs. For instance, heroin is considered to be a synthetic substance. But it comes from opium, an organic substance. In contrast, a variety of highly synthetic compounds and stimulants similar to amphetamine are used in the production of bath salts.

Definition of Designer Drugs

According to Merriam Webster, a designer drug is a synthetic variant of a controlled substance produced with an altered molecular structure to evade classification as an illicit drug.

The phrase “designer drug” refers to a wide variety of drugs. While many of these chemicals have quite distinct effects, synthetic drugs do have several properties. These are some examples:

  • Inconsistency between batches
  • There is no reliable scientific evidence on health risks and safety profiles.
  • Labeling information that is misleading or unclear
  • Changing the molecular structure on a regular basis to avoid legal issues.

The three subgroups of synthetic drugs include Synthetic Opioids, Synthetic Cathinones, and Synthetic Cannabinoids.

Figure 3 Spice (Synthetic Marijuana)
Figure 3 Spice (Synthetic Marijuana)

1. Synthetic Cannabinoids

The euphoria brought on by inhaling or consuming marijuana (cannabis) plant material is mimicked by synthetic cannabinoids. There are primarily two types of them:

• A liquid form commonly seen in e-cigarettes and other vaporizers

• It is referred to as synthetic marijuana or synthetic cannabis when sprayed over dried plant material and smoked.

Other names under which synthetic cannabinoids are marketed include:

  • Spice
  • Joker
  • K2
  • Kush
  • Kronic
  • Black Mamba

Health Effects

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme anxiety and agitation
  • Increased blood pressure

2. Synthetic Cathinones (Stimulants)

The euphoria and hallucinations brought on by cocaine, LSD, and methamphetamine are all attempts at being mimicked by synthetic stimulants.

Figure 4. Bath Salts

Bath salts, which appear just like bath salts for soaking, are one of the most popular. They are frequently mislabeled to conceal their purpose, such as plant food or jewellery cleanser. Most bath salts are similar to the cathinone found in the khat plant.  Synthetic cathinones were not banned in the United States when they first surfaced around a decade ago, unless they were sold for human consumption. Synthetic cathinones are offered as a replacement for illegal psychostimulants including cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy.

Panic attacks, hallucinations, excessive agitation, paranoia, and risky conduct are among the negative effects of these new designer drugs.

Street Names

Common names are:

  • Vanilla Sky
  • Cloud Nine
  • Bath salts
  • Ivory Wave
  • Mephedrone—Meph
  • Meow-meow
  • M-Cat
  • MMC Hammer
  • Bubbles
  • PVP—Flakka
  • Gravel

Health Effects

  • Respiratory arrest
  • Heart attack
  • Long-term cognitive impairment
  • Liver failure
  • Suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviors
  • Acute kidney injury

3. Synthetic Opioids

Among the earliest drugs to be synthesised were morphine and the illegal narcotic heroin, both of which were developed from opium, the original opiate generated from the seeds of the poppy plant.

Figure 5. Cocaine
Figure 5. Cocaine

Fentanyl is one of the most recent, and possibly most infamous, synthetic opioids. It is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and is frequently mixed with illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. Synthetic opioids, like as fentanyl, are the leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States.

Health effects

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • confusion
  • Troubled breathing
  • Unconsciousness

Designer Drugs list

Booming sales have become a serious issue as a result of the internet’s advancement and the expanded availability of designer drugs.

The unpredictability of designer medications’ contents, the chemical compositions of which were regularly adjusted to escape regulatory restrictions, increased their risk.

The DEA’s Operation Web Tryp resulted in the arrest of 10 persons in 2004. This operation’s goal was to track down and look into the online sales of designer drug analogues that were being sold as “research chemicals.”

Five separate websites made up Operation Web Tryp, and two of them were connected to consumer fatalities as well as 14 additional non-fatal overdoses.

Designer drugs were classified into various categories from the 1900s through the 2000s, including opioids, dissociatives, stimulants, and hallucinogens. During this decade, the following were particularly popular:

  • Ecstasy (stimulant and hallucinogen).
  • Methamphetamine (stimulant).
  • Tryptamine (psychoactive).
  • Phenethylamine (psychoactive).
  • Anabolic steroids (synthetic variation of testosterone).
  • Heroin (opioid).
  • Cocaine (stimulant).

Designer drugs that have become popular in recent years include:

  • “Spice” (synthetic marijuana)
  • Ecstasy (“Molly”—synthetic psychoactive drug similar to amphetamines and mescaline)
  • Bath salts (a lot of substance variability, but often contains one or more synthetic chemicals related to cathinone)
  • Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) (one of the chemicals found in bath salts)
  • Mephedrone (commonly found in bath salts)
  • Methylone (commonly found in bath salts)
  • 2C family (synthetic hallucinogens)
Figure 6 MDMA
Figure 6. MDMA

Who Use These Drugs?

Most of these synthetic drugs lack reliable information on the amount of persons who use them. According to research, approximately two-thirds of people who use these drugs are under the age of 25. Abuse is more likely among men, those with lower incomes, and those who are unmarried. The drugs are frequently used at clubs and parties. According to survey statistics, an alarming number of younger people (middle school age) have used at least one of the drugs. Other high-risk categories tend to include homeless persons who buy these drugs in an attempt to utilise cheaper alternatives to marijuana or related drugs.

Designer Hallucinogens

There are several designer hallucinogens out there with different names. Let’s look at a couple of them.

Figure 7. Hallucinogen

Ecstasy (MDMA)

Ecstasy is well-known for its stimulating and hallucinatory properties. The molecular term for ecstasy is 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). It is also known as “molly”. It is an amphetamine derivative. Ecstasy and methamphetamine (“meth”) have chemical structures that are very similar. It has been reported to cause sensations of joy, emotional warmth, increased energy, visual and auditory hallucinations, and impaired sensory and temporal perception.


Methamphetamine is a highly addictive, strong stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It is an odourless, white, bitter-tasting crystal-like powder that dissolves quickly in alcohol or water.

Methamphetamine, like amphetamine, can induce an increase in talkativeness and activity,loss of appetite, and euphoria. Because of these effects, these are commonly abused drugs.


Rohypnol is a designer drug that is marketed as a sleeping pill but is prohibited in the United States. Because it may create significant sleepiness (or “blackouts”), it is frequently used in date rapes. Despite being a sedative, it causes some people to become too aggressive or enthusiastic. Synthetic Rohypnol side effects may include a reduction in blood pressure, dizziness, tiredness, memory loss, abdominal discomfort, or an upset stomach.


Ketamine was first used as an anaesthetic drug for animals in Belgium in the 1960s. In 1970, the FDA authorised it as a human anaesthetic.

During the Vietnam War, this designer medicine was used to heal injured soldiers. Ketamine, unlike other anaesthetics, has no effect on respiration or heart rate.


The synthetic cathinone alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (Alpha-PVP), also often known as “Flakka”. It has a similar molecular structure to the designer drug known as “Bath Salts.” These prohibited compounds are synthetic versions of cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant found naturally in the khat plant.

Violent conduct, hallucinations, paranoia, and self-injury are all signs of uses of these drugs.


U-47700, often known as “U4,” “pinky,” or “pink,” is an extremely strong synthetic opioid that has the appearance of a pale pink or white powder. It is frequently crushed into tablets to resemble legitimate pain relievers or sold in baggies. This drug’s abuse is comparable to that of prescription and designer opioids, as well as heroin.

GHB (Gamma hydroxybutyrate)

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), a depressant, has lately acquired appeal among bodybuilders and partygoers. It is one of numerous drugs that have been reported to be used as a “date rape” drug. 


LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), one of the most well-known synthetic hallucinogens, is extraordinarily strong. It was first produced in 1938 from lysergic acid, which is present in ergot, a fungus that may grow on rye or other cereals. LSD and other psychoactive drugs cause distorted visual experiences, changed noises, hallucinations, anxiety, a high heart rate, and dilated pupils.

This and other innovative psychoactive compounds are popular owing to the “trip” one gets after taking these recreational drugs within 30-45 minutes. 

How Dangerous Is the Designer Drug?

Manufacturers of synthetic drugs are not subject to any authoritative or monitoring authority that assures the quality of the chemicals they create. There is no way to determine whether or not what you buy is what you believe it is. Even, many medical personnel are unaware of the precise synthetic medicine that a patient may be taking since new synthetic drugs are frequently created or established formulas are occasionally changed.

The producers of these drugs have the freedom to incorporate any sort of chemical, hazardous or not. They may market it as whatever they want. Synthetic drugs are often snorted, smoked, injected, or taken orally. The results will differ depending on the substance used. The majority of synthetic drugs have the potential to cause:

Mental illness:  This covers delusions and hallucinations. The delusions are often paranoid in character.

Heart problem: This includes a rapid pulse, an irregular heartbeat, a rise in body temperature, and other possible cardiovascular problems.

Poor physical health:  Headache, nauseousness, stomach discomfort, and/or vomiting are possible side effects.

Behavior problems:  Suicidal thoughts and acts are possible responses.

Neurological conditions:  Strokes or seizures might happen.

Numerous of these consequences have the potential to be harmful or even lethal.

Damage to the brain, liver, kidneys, and other organs are possible long-term consequences of taking these drugs. These drugs frequently cause users to act in highly reckless and impulsive ways, defying reasoning.


The following elements would be part of the treatment plan for any of the drugs mentioned above:

Assessment: A preliminary evaluation gauges performance across all domains (physical, emotional, cognitive, and social).

Medical detox: Some persons are enrolled in a medical detox programme to manage any withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the scenario, this may be an outpatient or an inpatient procedure.

Medical management: Drugs may be prescribed to treat additional conditions like cravings, psychological concerns, and physical restrictions.

Behavioral therapies: Long-term healing is built on these approaches. Therapy, participation in peer support groups, family involvement, and other treatments are among them.

Continuing care: An aftercare programme will assist in preventing relapse and will act as a solid support system for ongoing recovery.


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