Designer Drugs


Over ages, humans, luckily, found that several ingested plants were a source of unique satisfying feelings, beyond satiety. Some were mildly modifying (examples; nicotine, caffeine), others enhanced mood or changed perception, decreased pain, intoxicated, or created euphoria (examples; alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens, opiates, cocaine). In the past two centuries, consumption of these psychoactive substances expanded rapidly. Modern chemistry has developed a great range of varieties of these plant products.  Designer drugs are creating to be similar, but not identical with Psychoactive Drugs that were prohibited for sale for human utilization, unless for medical goals.

Forensic Issues

Designer drugs are producing in laboratories. These drugs are legally restricting for delivery and possession. Examples include mephedrone, methylone, MDPV, methylphenidate, synthetic cannabinoids, N-adamantyl-1-pentylindole-3-carboxamide (2NE1), methiopropamine, and methoxetamine. They are sold economically as bulk powders.

They are more challenging to identify these drugs. Standard strip tests do not recognize most of these compounds. Most drug or their metabolites are effortlessly separated from biological samples, including hair samples, and can identify in laboratories with standard or superior analytical methods.

Classification of Designer Drugs

Current designer drugs can be classified by their chemical structure, by their psychoactive properties, by their known biological targets, or by their source (plant, synthetic, or combined).

 Cathinones Designer Drugs

The drugs most found in “bath salts” are substituted Cathinones (synthetic derivatives of the stimulant Chemical in Khat). “Bath salts” are disguised as plant foods, insect repellent, stain removers, and sold under brand names such as Bliss, Blue Silk, Cloud Nine, Drone, Energy-1, Ivory Wave, Lunar Wave, Meow- Meow, Ocean Burst, Pure Ivory, Purple Wave, Red Dove, Snow Leopard, Stardust, Vanilla Sky, White Dove, White Knight, and White Lightning. The products are selling as powders in small plastic or foil packages of 200 and 500 mg. These compounds are easy to prepare.

 Cannabinoid Designer Drugs

There are three types of cannabinoids designer drugs:

  • Phytocannabinoids

These are obtaining from plants. The marijuana plant produces over 70 Phytocannabinoids. Δ9 -Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is found at much higher concentrations than any other cannabinoid in the common Cannabis sativa plant, one of several plants that produce cannabinoids.

  • Endocannabinoids

These are producing in the brain and other organs. The body produces seven or more endocannabinoids, two of which are widely distributed and function in cannabinoid signaling: anandamide (2-arachidonoylethanolamide) and 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol), which similar, but are not identical to cannabinoids of plant origin.

  • Synthetic cannabinoids

These are developing over the last 30 years as research tools to explore cannabinoid systems in the brain and other organs and to discover the feasibility of developing cannabinoid medications.

  • Hallucinogens Designer Drugs

Several hallucinogens and other psychoactive drugs have evolved into street drugs:

(1) Phenethylamine (analogous to mescaline), rigid equivalents of phenethylamines

and benzylphenethylamines

(2) Salvinorin A

(3) Tryptamines

Some Notable Designer Drugs


Methamphetamine is a powerful addictive stimulant that strongly affects the Central Nervous System (CNS). The drug is made easily in clandestine laboratories with moderately economical over-the-counter ingredients. These agents combine to make methamphetamine, a drug with a high potential for widespread abuse.

Methamphetamine is commonly known as speed, meth, and chalk. It is smoking in the form of ice, crystal, crank, and glass. It is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol.

 Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) or Ecstasy is a synthetic drug that has found widespread use in young adult populations. The compound MDMA was first synthesized in 1914 and originally developed as an appetite suppressant. However, the compound was never used for that purpose, and in the 1970s recreational drug use with MDMA was first noted.

MDMA is an amphetamine derivative. Ecstasy causes a release of neuroactive compounds such as Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), Dopamine, and Norepinephrine into the Central Nervous System (CNS). These effects on neurotransmitter levels lead to many of the effects that are inducing by ecstasy use, including mood changes.


Trifluoromethylphenylpiperazine or TFMPP is 1-aryl piperazine and known widely as a new group of designer drugs and used as recreational drugs for their stimulant effects. TFMPP is typically obtaining in the form of powder, tablets, or capsules. The primary route of administration is oral consumption. However, the powder is also being “snorted” or smoked.


Mecloqualone is an analog of methaqualone that was first manufacturing in 1960. It has sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic properties caused by its agonist activity at the β- a subtype of the GABA receptor. It was used for the treatment of insomnia. Mecloqualone is faster-acting but shorter-lasting than methaqualone and so was used only as a sleeping pill.

 Forensic Analysis of Designer Drugs


Preparation of reagent:

 Methamphetamine: 8 –10 drops of 40% Formaldehyde solution add to 10 ml of concentrated Sulphuric Acid.

For Mescaline: Solution A: Add 8 – 18 drops of 40% formaldehyde solution to 10 ml glacial acetic acid.

Solution B: Concentrated Sulphuric acid.


For Methamphetamine: An appropriate amount of the sample is taken on a spot plate and added not more than three drops of reagent dropwise. Appears of orange color turning to brown indicate the positive test for the presence of Amphetamine/Methamphetamine.

For Mescaline: Appropriate amount of the suspected sample or exhibit is taken on a spot plate and added to it one drop of Solution- A followed by two drops of Solution- B. The appearance of orange to orange-red color indicates the presence of Mescaline.


Preparation of reagents:

Solution A: 16% Hydrochloric Acid solution.

Solution B: 2.5 gm Cobalt (II) Thiocyanate in 100 ml water.


A small amount of sample is taking into a test tube. Add one drop of Solution- A and one-drop Solution- B. Blue color indicates a positive test for the presence of Methaqualone or Mecloqualone.


Preparation of reagent:

50 mg of molybdic acid or Sodium Molybdate is dissolving in 10 ml of hot concentrated Sulphuric Acid. The resulting solution should be colorless.


The sample is taking on a spot plate and add a few drops of Frohde’s reagent.

The appearance of brown color indicates the presence of Mescaline.

The conversion of Brown color to purple indicates the presence of Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA).


Preparation of reagent:

5 gm. of Sodium Nitrate added to 50 ml of Sulphuric Acid with cooling and swirling to absorb the brown fumes.


Take the appropriate amount of the sample on a spot plate and add 2 – 3 drops of Liebermann’s reagent. Occasionally it is required to carry out the test in a test tube and heats it in a water bath at 100°C. The appearance of black color indicates the presence of Mescaline.

Authored by : Anuwanshi Sharma

M,Sc. Forensic Science (Toxicology)

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