Designer and synthetic drugs, as the name implies, are manufactured chemical substances designed to get you high. These drugs attempt to mimic the effects of a well-known drug without running afoul of local laws. For example, synthetic marijuana is a type of designer drug. Synthetic drugs are chemically synthesized substances made from one or more other drugs. For example, MDMA, which is more commonly known as Ecstasy, blends methamphetamine with a host of other chemical agents.
Designer and Synthetic Drugs: The Basics
Designer and synthetic drugs aren’t really a single class of substances that function the same in the body. Instead, their classification is a matter of convenience, since the way these drugs affect the body varies greatly depending on which substances the drugs are derived from and which drugs they are designed to mimic. Some of the most popular synthetic drugs include:
- MDMA – Better known as ecstasy because of its tendency to produce feelings of love, this drug’s primary ingredient is methamphetamine. Ecstasy is popular in the club scene, and users claim that it serves as an aphrodisiac and mood booster. MDMA comes in pill form, with the quality and purity of the drug varying significantly from manufacturer to manufacturer. MDMA is often referred to as Molly, and yields about 25,000 emergency room visits each year.
- PCP – Derived from Ketamine, PCP is best known for its ability to produce extreme aggression and seemingly superhuman pain tolerance. At lower doses, its effects are similar to that of common depressants such as alcohol, but at higher doses, it can cause psychosis, paranoia, and delusions. PCP causes nearly 37,000 emergency room visits each year.
- LSD – LSD is a psychedelic drug made from Ergoline, a substance found in some mushrooms. Popularly known as acid, LSD produces a powerful high that lasts about 12 hours. Users may experience hallucinations that cause them to behave dangerously. Though LSD reached the height of its popularity in the 1970s, it still contributes to 5,000 emergency room visits every year.
- GHB – GHB derives from gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, a substance that occurs naturally in the human brain. Synthetic GHB is a liquid drug, in addition to being a depressant that induces feelings of sleepiness and relaxation. In recent years, it has become popular as a so-called date rape drug. It is both colorless and odorless, and leaves the body quickly, making it difficult for doctors to determine when a rape victim has been drugged with GHB. In addition to playing a role in thousands of rapes, GHB intoxication gives rise to an additional 2,000 emergency room visits each year.
- Ketamine – Sometimes referred to as Special K, Ketamine derives from PCP, and can be used as a date rape drug, a depressant, or at higher doses, a powerful hallucinogen. It causes serious disturbances in memory, but remains relatively unpopular, causing less than 1,000 emergency room visits each year.
- Synthetic Marijuana – Synthetic marijuana is manufactured and marketed under a variety of names, with manufacturers constantly changing their marketing strategy to escape legal regulations. Often referred to as Spice, synthetic marijuana caused nearly 12,000 emergency room visits in 2010 – one of the first years its effects were tracked.
How Designer and Synthetic Drugs Affect the Body
The effects of designer drugs depends on the specific drug. Depressants such as GHB give rise to symptoms such as decreased inhibitions, sleepiness, memory problems, and feelings of well-being. Stimulants such as MDMA cause feelings of euphoria, energy, and sociability, and can provoke feelings of aggression and paranoia. Psychedelic drugs such as LSD primarily cause hallucinations, but can also yield feelings of invincibility, euphoria, aggression, and anger.
The risks of using these drugs are myriad. Many designer drugs are sold in pill form, creating the illusion that they’re well-regulated medications. But the purity of drugs varies greatly from batch to batch. Even worse, some manufacturers add in other drugs either to reduce cost or encourage addiction. Some designer drugs may even be marketed as one drug, when they’re really another. MDMA users, for example, might think they’re getting methamphetamine in pill form.
Long-Term Effects of Designer and Synthetic Drugs
The specific long-term effects of any designer drug depend on the drug’s classification and chemical composition. The most significant risk of designer drugs is addiction, and this risk is made even more severe by the fact that designer drugs often combine several drugs. Thus designer drug addicts are particularly likely to be addicted to multiple drugs.
Some common long-term effects of designer drug use include:
- Cardiovascular problems such as heart attack, stroke, and broken blood vessels.
- Respiratory problems.
- Brain damage.
- Sudden death.
- Mental health issues.
- Illegal behavior.
- Delusions and hallucinations.
- Organ damage.
- Worsening of pre-existing medical conditions.
Understanding the Withdrawal Process
When you become addicted to a drug, your body undergoes chemical changes that make it more difficult to quit. When you suddenly stop using drugs, your body resists at first, putting you through a process known as withdrawal. Although withdrawal can be unpleasant, it’s typically short, lasting about a week.
Some drugs are harder to withdraw from than others, so it’s important to talk to your doctor before beginning to detox. The specific side effects you can expect depend on the drug you use, but some common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Depression, anxiety, or extreme psychological distress.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Changes in your appetite.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Anger, paranoia, and aggression.
- Excessive sweating.
- Headache, muscle aches, and other mysterious aches and pains.
- Strong drug cravings.
After you complete withdrawal, your body is no longer chemically dependent on the drug. This means that cravings tend to get much less severe, making it easier to stay off of drugs.