What Are Designer Drugs?

What Are Designer Drugs? – Some psychoactive substances are natural, meaning that the plants from which they are derived can be found in nature and do not need human intervention to induce their pleasurable, sought-after effects. These include opium poppies (thebaine, morphine, codeine), coca leaves, psilocybin mushrooms, and marijuana.

Other drugs are synthetic, however, which means they are developed using human-made chemicals, and not entirely derived from ingredients found in nature. For example, K2 (Spice), MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly), and bath salts (cathinones) are all types of synthetic drugs, also commonly known as “designer” drugs.

Since synthetic drugs are often created in illicit labs to circumvent regulations prohibiting controlled substances, their potency, composition, and ingredients are often unknown to the user. These can be extremely dangerous and can lead to abuse, addiction, severe health issues, and death.

Synthetic Drugs

The term “designer drugs” refers to substances designed in a laboratory to replicate the pharmacological effects of a controlled drug. Manufacturers may develop these drugs with slightly altered molecular structures to avoid having them classified as illegal. The term can apply to almost every synthetic drug, but it is most often used in reference to recreational drugs.

New designer drugs frequently enter the drug market. In fact, between 2009-2014, more than 200 new designer drugs were identified, and many of these were manufactured in China. Many designer drugs can be bought and sold over the Internet on the Dark Web, and they are often marketed as herbal smoking blends, plant food, or bath salts.

Types of Designer Drugs

The following list is not necessarily complete but intended to include the most popularly used substances considered to be ‘designer’ drugs.

Synthetic Marijuana

Like many designer drugs, synthetic marijuana can be found in different forms and by many names – K2, Spice, fake pot, legal weed, potpourri, etc. Active ingredients are sprayed onto dried plant material and diced herbs. Unlike marijuana, which contains THC, synthetic marijuana primarily consists of synthetic cannabinoids to mimic the effects of cannabis.

There more than 120 known chemical forms of synthetic cannabinoids, and the drug can change significantly from batch to batch. Also, because synthetic marijuana is often erroneously advertised as “safe” and “natural,” many users wrongly believe that it is no more dangerous than natural marijuana, which could not be further from the truth.

Designer Stimulants

Designer stimulants aim to simulate the effects of cocaine and hallucinogenic drugs. Two typical examples are bath salts (cathinones) and MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine), also known as Molly and Ecstasy.

These psychoactive drugs can produce many adverse effects, including addiction, paranoia, accelerated heartbeat, hallucinations, panic attacks, and even death.


3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly, is a psychoactive substance primarily used as a recreational “club drug“. Use is most prevalent among teenagers and young adults in party, club, and social environments.

Since the late 1980s, however, the name “Ecstasy” has become a marketing term that may refer to drugs that may, in fact, contain little or no MDMA. MDMA may produce adverse effects in its own right, but substances sold as “Ecstasy” today may contain any number of psychoactive substances (e.g., amphetamine or LSD) and adulterants such as rat poison.

Despite the cute and colorful logos dealers place on the pills, a user never really knows what he or she is taking. The dangers are increased when users increase the dose or mix it with other substances such as alcohol, unaware not knowing they may have consumed an entirely different combination of drugs.


Cathinone is an intoxicant found in the khat plant that is native to Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, and some other African countries. It is a mild but addictive stimulant that is released into the body when the leaves of the plant are chewed. Trafficking of this plant is limited, however, because the psychoactive ingredients lose many of their stimulating qualities shortly after harvesting.

Synthetic cathinones are a bit different – these are potent and dangerous stimulants created in a lab. Chemically, they closely resemble the intoxicant in the khat plant, but unlike natural cathinone, they have had fatal effects on many people.

Drugs in this class include mephedrone, methylone, and MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone.) These are the primary ingredients found drugs commonly marketed as “bath salts.” Bath salts are supposed to be used for bathing, and instead, are only labeled this way to evade certain laws.


LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), first discovered in 1938, is a potent hallucinogen. It is synthetically created from lysergic acid found in ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. It is so powerful that people usually only consumed doses in the microgram range.

The effects of LSD, which are often referred to as a “trip,” can be stimulating, pleasurable, mind-altering, and invoke hallucinations. However, use can also lead to an unpleasant, sometimes terrifying experience, also known as a “bad trip.”

LSD is produced in a crystalline form and then combined with other inactive ingredients, or diluted as a liquid for production in consumable forms such as soaked onto sheets of “blotter paper” or as thin squares of gelatin (window panes).

GHB or “Liquid Ecstasy”

GHB and its analogs are commonly used as “club” and “date rape” drugs. The designer analogs of GHB have a different chemical structure than GHB but convert into GHB as they are metabolized in the body.

Because it is a depressant, GHB can produce euphoria, drowsiness, and loss of consciousness. Because it is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, the drug can be easily added to drinks (particularly alcohol) to sedate and incapacitate would-be victims.

Ketamine or “Special K”

The effects of ketamine can be listed under many classes, including a date rape drug, a depressant, analgesic, and a hallucinogen. It is a derivative of another designer drug, PCP (angel dust), which is no longer often found as a drug of abuse. Ketamine’s effects are of a milder intensity than PCP and shorter in duration.

However, ketamine is best known for its dissociative properties, or out-of-body experiences, and “euphoric disconnectedness.” These feelings of memory loss and sensory distortion also make it a popular date rape drug.

Methoxetamine, a dissociative drug belonging to the same class as phencyclidine and ketamine, has recently been found on the black market being sold as ketamine.

Fentanyl Analogs

Acetyl fentanyl is an opioid analgesic that is an analog of fentanyl. Acetyl fentanyl is much more potent than morphine, has never been approved for medical use and since its inception has only been sold as a designer drug. Acetyl fentanyl was discovered at the same time as fentanyl itself and until recent years had only rarely been found on the illicit drug market.

Common side effects of fentanyl analogs are comparable to those of fentanyl, which include itching, nausea, and potentially life-threatening respiratory depression. In recent years, fentanyl analogs have killed thousands of people in the U.S. alone.

Treatment for Drug Addiction

If you are currently abusing designer drugs, alcohol, or other intoxicating substances, you are urged to seek treatment as soon as possible. Our center employs an integrated approach to addiction treatment that includes essential therapeutic services such as psychotherapy, psychoeducation, counseling, group support, and more.

Recovery in Tune is staffed with compassionate addiction professionals who administer these services to clients with care and expertise. Our staff provides clients with the skills, knowledge, and support they need to achieve abstinence and experience long-lasting wellness and sobriety.

You can reclaim the rewarding life you deserve free from addiction! Call us today to find out how we can help!

Related: The Dangers of Teen Prescription Drug Abuse

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