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The online world is rife with claims of safe and legal ways to get intoxicated and achieve mind altering effects from several man-made or synthetic drugs and materials. Additionally, gas stations and convenience stores sell these substances disguised as research chemicals, jewelry cleaners, potpourri, herbal incense, and plant food. They often label them as not being fit for human consumption so that they can avoid FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulation.
In the same way, many people abuse these products on a regular basis to achieve their psychoactive, psychedelic, and euphoric effects. However, since most of them are largely unregulated and manufactured in illicit laboratories, they tend to be dangerous. This is because they are untested and their side effects might be unpredictable.
That said, synthetic drugs can be defined as dangerous and harmful drugs that are designed to copy the effects of certain controlled and heavily regulated mind altering and intoxicating substances. They usually come in a variety of forms, including but not limited to powders, pills, liquids, and herbs.
In recent years, the number of overdose deaths arising from the increasing abuse of synthetic drugs has been becoming more prevalent - particularly among teens and young adults. Those who abuse these drugs put themselves at serious risk especially because most of them are unaware of the chemical composition and makeup as well as the origin of these drugs. As a direct result, they run the risk of overdose and sudden death.
But which are the most common of these synthetic drugs currently on the market? What risks arise from abusing these drugs? Read on to find out more:
Understanding Synthetic Drugs
As we mentioned earlier, synthetic drugs can be defined as the man-made substances created to copy the effects of certain controlled substances. As such, most of these drugs are produced in clandestine illicit labs - both in the United States and beyond. When they are manufactured in other countries, particularly China - they are often smuggled into the country and packaged for individual use.
These intoxicating and mind altering substances are usually sold on the street or in convenience stores. To appeal to young people, they are often bound in colorful packaging. Additionally, they are distributed illegally over the internet and in shops known for selling drug paraphernalia.
Varieties Of Synthetic Drugs
Also known as NPS (new psychoactive substances), synthetic drugs also have many other names. These include but are not limited to legal highs, herbal highs, bath salts, and NEDs (new and emerging drugs). All of these drugs come with claims that they copy the exact effects arising from abusing certain illicit drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, and cannabis.
However, most synthetic drugs are different in chemical structure to the illegal drugs they try to mimic. This way, they can be effectively marketed as acceptable, safe, and "legal" alternatives. Still, this legal status varies and - in most cases - their safety remains largely questionable and unverified.
In fact, due to the limited research conducted into the short, medium, and long term effects of such drugs, it is close to impossible to know just how safe they are. Additionally, there have been concerns about the content of most of these new psychoactive drugs. When you consider the fact that there are no quality or safety control checks on most synthetic drugs, you might understand that it would be difficult for you to know exactly what they contain.
Consider the following types and varieties of commonly abused synthetic drugs:
1. Drug Analogues and Research Chemicals
Drug analogues can be defined as drugs that are similar in chemical structure to well-known illicit substances. On the other hand, drug derivatives refer to substances made from other drugs.
In most cases, most of these drug derivatives and analogues belong to larger classes of addictive and intoxicating substances - such as tryptamines, phenethylamines, and cathinones. A good example is mephedrone that is known on the street as meow meow.
These derivatives have also been banned by the Controlled Substances Act. To escape detection, however, retailers often sell them in deceptive packaging with confusing and deceptive labels - such as bath salts, plant food, and research chemicals. The labelling also includes fake warnings like "ONLY FOR RESEARCH USE" or "NOT SUITED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION".
That said, many countries have banned synthetic drugs like mephedrone. However, this has only led to the emergency of other substances that contain new chemicals, including methoxetamine (which is a ketamine analogue), flephedrone, MDPV, and naphyrone.
In many cases, the chemicals used to create these new products - like MDPV - tend to be active in relatively low doses. As a direct result, the manufacturers often cut them with fillers to ensure that the doses are similar to that from the illegal substances they are trying to mimic.
However, the manufacture and manipulation of synthetic drugs tends to create a variety of adverse effects on users, including but not limited to:
- A sore jaw
- Acute agitation
- Chest pain
- Days of hallucinations
- Diminished cognitive ability
- Emotional fragility
- Heart problems
- Loss of appetite
- Muscular pain
- Suicidal thoughts
In the same way, manufacturers alter different chemical compounds - if only slightly so - from previous forms of these synthetic drugs to avoid control and regulation by the DEA.
To counter this, the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act was passed in 2012 to effectively classify most of these drugs abused for their adverse psychoactive effects under Schedule I. Today, therefore, they are effectively illegal in the country because they are widely considered to be potentially addictive and dangerous and on account of the fact that they have no currently approved medical uses. However, the Washington Post recently reported that there are over 500 of these designed or synthetic drugs on the market.
2. Party Pills and Herbal Highs
Also known as herbal highs, party pills are usually marketed and labelled as herbal supplements designed to increase energy, improve mood, and mimic the effects of stimulants like amphetamines and ecstasy but with fewer adverse effects. As such, they contain various chemically active and natural ingredients, such as geranium extract (geranamine), aurantium, citrus, and caffeine.
Until about 2009, the most common ingredients in herbal highs that were chemically active included trifluoro-methyl-phenylpiperazine (or TFMPP) and benzylpiperazine (or BZP). Other common ingredients used in these synthetic drugs included tyrosine, tryptophan, phenylalanine), and piper nigrum.
In 2009, however, BZP was banned. After that, illicit manufacturers started marketing a variety of new products containing the following chemicals:
- Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (or MDPV)
Since most of these chemicals are new, their potential risks and dangers are as yet unknown and largely difficult to predict. As such, herbal highs might contain a variety of chemicals with different risks and toxicity.
3. Synthetic Cannabis (Synthetic Marijuana)
Among the most commonly abused synthetic drugs in the US are synthetic cannabinoids or synthetic marijuana. These man-made substances are variously known as K2 and Spice. The chemicals are produced in clandestine labs to produce drugs that mimic the natural biological effects of the main psychoactive chemical found in marijuana (THC).
In most cases, manufacturers and users both refer to Spice as synthetic marijuana. This is because it is sold in the form of plant material that closely resembles ground cannabis.
During the preparation process, manufacturers spray this herb-like material with different dangers chemicals. If you smoke the substance, therefore, you might ultimately ingest these chemicals and suffer serious and severe effects.
In 2011, the DEA temporarily places the 5 main synthetic chemicals that are sprayed on plant material to create Spice under Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances act. These chemicals include JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47, 497, and cannabicyclohexanol.
In most cases, however, synthetic cannabinoids are typically combined with herbs with a view to copy the effects of marijuana. Users often smoke these drugs or drink them as tea.
Among all of them, Spice was the first in a longer series of these synthetic drugs to be released into the market. After its emergence and relative popularity - particularly in the years when marijuana was classified as an illicit drug and (as such) largely regulated - many other similar products were developed, including Kronic.
Since most of these synthetic cannabinoids were developed relatively recently, there is limited research and information about their effects both in the short and in the long term. However, some of their effects that have been reported include:
- A dissociative state, where you are disconnected from your sense of identity, memories, feelings, and thoughts
- Chest pain
- Delayed reaction time
- Dry mouth
- Effects that are similar to smoking marijuana
- Heart palpitations
- Irregular and fast heart rate
- Lowering of inhibitions
- Racing thoughts
- Tachypnea (or rapid breathing)
Research reports have also suggested that most of the toxic symptoms arising from abusing synthetic cannabinoids tend to last for about 3 to 4 hours (when they do not result in death) and that no adverse effects persist after this timeframe. Still, there are serious concerns about some of the more severe and acute toxicities arising from abusing these drugs in the long term.
On the other hand, many drug traffickers and illicit producers use any chemicals to create these synthetic drugs - while paying no heed whatsoever to the toxicity of these chemicals.
That said, some of the more common street names for K2 and Spice include:
- Scooby Snax
- Fake Weed
- Black Mamba
Like with most of the other synthetic drugs, the packaging on these man-made cannabinoids are labeled as being unfit for human consumption. However, this warning is printed to deliberately benefit the vendor by providing them with protection from the law and from criminal prosecution.
Additionally, many online websites sell and market K2 and Spice as incense but with the express intention of eventually getting people to ingest the drugs to achieve their pleasurable mind altering effects.
4. Cathinones and Bath Salts
Bath salts are synthetic cathinones that act as stimulant drugs containing substances like mephedrone, methylone, and MDPV. Science Direct reports that snorting these synthetic drugs is similar to snorting about 10 lines of cocaine in a single instance. As a direct result, abusing these man-made chemicals may lead to an increase in energy levels, focus, body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.
These cathinones also produce other pharmacological effects that are similar to cocaine, methamphetamine (or meth), and ecstasy (MDMA). They usually appear in crystal or powder form and people ingest them through swallowing and snorting. When this happens, the drugs might create a plethora of adverse side effects, including but not limited to:
- Panic attacks
- Liver failure
- Kidney failure
- Heart attack
- Abnormal breakdown of normal muscle tissue
Most of these cathinones are manufactured in clandestine illicit labs in China before being smuggled into the United States. After that, they are sold in convenience stores and over the internet with catchy names like Hurricane Charlie, Scarface, White Lightning, Vanilla Sky, Zoom, Red Dove, and Ivory Wave.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved one version of legal fentanyl that is sold in the United States and administered by doctors. Today, this form of fentanyl is among the most potent of all medications used in alleviating pain. In fact, it can be anywhere between 50 and 100 times more powerful than morphine as well as 50 times as potent as heroin. In these situations, the drug is used in the treatment of severe pain for cancer patients as well as a surgical anesthetic.
In 2015, the DEA published an alert on the threats of fentanyl use to public and health safety. Today, the drug is a dangerous and powerful narcotic classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
This substance is so powerful that it has been linked to many overdose deaths in the country. Additionally, the past few years have seen an increase in the distribution of illegally produced fentanyl that is responsible for the unprecedented outbreak of thousands of cases of overdose and sudden death.
Due to this incidence of overdose, the DEA also issued an alert for officer safety designed to protect law enforcement officials and emergency medical first responders. This is because accidentally inhaling or touching the drug while testing it or during enforcement activity can cause you to absorb it through the skin.
Additionally, using - both deliberately and accidentally - this drug is dangerous and might lead to the rapid and profound onset of a variety of severe health effects that could occur minutes after your exposure. Such effects include:
- Respiratory distress
- Cardiac arrest
Although FDA-approved fentanyl is still diverted illegally for use by addicts, there are many other synthetic versions of the drug out there that have been causing great havoc particularly in the heroin abuse community. This is because drug traffickers sometimes lace heroin with fentanyl to increase the potency of their batch and - eventually - to increase demand and sales. This means that users might not know what they are just about to ingest. In some cases, this leads to many cases of overdose and sudden death.
Acetyl fentanyl is among the most common forms of illegally produced fentanyl. A fentanyl analogue, it is pharmacologically and/or chemically similar to fentanyl that has receive DRA approval.
The DEA reports that acetyl fentanyl is anywhere between 5 to 15 times more powerful than heroin and close to 80 times as potent as morphine. The drug may also contain a wide variety of other contaminants that you might not be aware of and which could, as a direct result, prove fatal when you consume them.
At the moment, there is no authorized or sanction use for this drug in the United States. As a direct result, it is widely produced in illicit labs in Mexico and China - hence its street name, China White.
Acetyl fentanyl appears in the form of an off-white powder as well as in pill form that mimics the oxycodone pills used for the relief of pain. As a direct result, some drug users who try to buy oxycodone might inadvertently receive these fentanyl pills and end up suffering an overdose or a fatal death.
Chemically referred to as lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD was among the most popular of all hallucinogens abused in the 1960s. Today, it is commonly known as acid on the street.
In most cases, it is distributed in tiny gelatin squares, capsules, or tablet that are referred to as window panes. Most people sell it on absorbent paper that is divided into a series of small squares with cartoon characters and various attractive designs. Users take it sublingually (under the tongue), intravenously, and orally.
When this happens, the user may experience a bad trip characterized by panic attacks, severe paranoia, and anxiety. Since LSD works by altering perception, the user might also engage in harmful and dangerous behavior and actions because they are sometimes unable to tell the difference between reality and imagination.
Over the years, however, the abuse of this substance has been declining. Therefore, even though it is still available on the street, the drug is still less popular particularly in comparison to other synthetic drugs.
Molly is another one of the most popular synthetic drugs. It is popularly marketed as ecstasy or MDMA although the DEA reports that only about 13% of the total number of Molly sold in the country contains any MDMA. That said, molly is often sold in pill or powder form that can be ingested by inhalation or orally. The drug works as a stimulant or a hallucinogen.
NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) also reports that MDMA or Molly might create a wide variety of effects on the user - including but not limited to chills, teeth clenching, heavy sweating, and increased heart rate. This is also one of the synthetic drugs that can cause sharp rises in your body temperature, eventually leading to sudden organ failure and/or death.
It is difficult to claim for certain that a particular substance is the most dangerous of all synthetic drugs. This is because any one of these substances can result in overdose and sudden death even after a single instance of use.
However, N-BOMe (which is also known as Smiles and N-Bomb) is among the most deadly of these synthetic drugs you can find on the street today. This is because taking a dose that is as small as a couple of grains of normal table salt might quickly lead to death.
In fact, N-Bomb is so toxic and dangerous that emergency first responders and law enforcement officials are now required to wear glasses, gloves, and masks when trying to handle the drug. These precautionary measures protect them from possible fatalities and toxic exposure during emergency medical cases and drug arrests that involve the drug.
As one of the most powerful of all synthetic hallucinogens, N-BOMe is often marketed and sold as an affordable and more effective alternative to mescaline (hallucinogens made from cacti) and LSD. There are also several variations of the drug although 25I-NBOMe (or 25I) is the most potent and abused forms of it. Effects from a small amount of the drug may last for 12 hours or more.
Additionally, N-Bomb is variously sold in powder or liquid form or even soaked into blotter papers in much the same way that LSD is marketed. The drug has a strong and bitter metallic state - which is why some dealers and manufacturers add fruit flavoring and mint to make it easier for users to ingest it. Most users administer N-BOMe through inhalation, sublingually, smoking, and injection. It is also marketed falsely as LSD.
Chemically referred to as alpha-PVP, Flakka or Gravel is another synthetic cathinone that comes with both hallucinogenic and stimulant effects. Even the smallest grain of this drug comes with powerful results - which has led to the rapidly rising popularity of Gravel - with the Washington Post reporting that over 300 cases of such drug abuse occurred in Broward County, Florida in 2015.
Otherwise known as Blue Mystic, Nexus, Foxy, and AMT, DMT is a class of drugs that are classified as phenethylamines and tryptamines. These psychoactive substances produce hallucinatory effects similar to those arising from mescaline and LSD. As such, they are popularly used in the party and club scene.
Irrespective of the synthetic drugs you abuse, you should be aware of the fact that most of these substances tend to be more dangerous, unpredictable, and powerful than the illicit drugs they try to mimic.
In fact, the AAPCC (American Association of Poison Control Centers) reported that 2015 saw over 7500 distress calls made by people as a result of adverse reactions arising from abusing synthetic cannabinoids. The same body also reported that the same period saw over 520 exposures to cathinones or bath salts.
Synthetic Drug Abuse
The internet and increasing online activity has largely changed how people obtain and abuse drugs in the modern world. Today, you only need to click a couple of buttons to get your hands on these potentially risky and dangerous and sometimes legal research chemicals delivered straight to your doorstep.
As a direct result, most people assume that these forms of purchase are safer, easier, and more convenient than looking for peddlers on the streets and in alleys. They also have the flexibility of being able to check through drug forums to find suggestions of new synthetic drugs they can try. Needless to say, this has appealed to the increasingly younger populations who try these drugs.
In fact, AAPCC reports that 60% of all instances of synthetic drug abuse often involves people younger than 25 years. Additionally, the forms of these substances that are stimulants and can alter perceptions are quite popular in the party ad club scene.
According to the Addiction Science and Clinical Practice journal, young adults - particularly men in the mid- to late-20s - have the highest risk of abusing these drugs. In particular, the demographic that is more prone to synthetic drugs includes those with lower incomes and who are single. However, the substances are also quite popular in many American college campuses.
Synthetic Drug Effects
Despite their popularity, synthetic drugs produce a wide variety of harmful and dangerous effects that could alter your life both in the short and in the long term. These effects include but are not always limited to:
- Loss of consciousness
These effects are quite dangerous as shown from statistics from 2010 to 2011 that showed an increase of 230% in the number of emergency room visits related to synthetic drugs. Additionally, they could arise because manufacturers of these drugs keep trying to develop new chemicals so as to evade the law meaning that consumers might not know what is in the drugs they abuse.
In most cases, even a small modification can lead to major effects and put the lives of users at risk. This is particularly true given the fact that the FDA has not approved synthetic drugs or any of their active ingredients.
Synthetic Drug Addiction
Drugs include any product that is inhaled, injected, swallowed, snorted, or smoked for the main purpose of producing intoxicating and mind altering effects. This also includes every drug that is technically legal and/or marketed as any other product, such as research chemicals.
When you abuse synthetic drugs, they might change the chemical makeup of your brain - particularly in the segments of the brain that are related to pleasure, impulse control, lucid decision making, and mood.
Some synthetic drugs may also distort your senses and lead to psychotic side effects and hallucinations. This is because they interfere with some of the neurotransmitters or chemical messengers that your brain uses while sending messages all through the body and the central nervous system.
As a direct result, using stimulant synthetic drugs like bath salts or Flakka might increase the levels of norepinephrine in your brain as well as stimulate your CNS. In the process, these substances can raise body temperature, blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. At the same time, they may decrease your natural need for food and sleep while simultaneously making you talkative, excitable, and energetic.
Spice, on the other hand, has the opposite effect because it is a CNS depressant. As such, it can slow all these functions down and leave you feeling euphoric, mellow, and unexcitable.
However, synthetic drugs tend to be unpredictable. As such, you might display erratic behavior while on them. Self-harming behaviors, aggression, psychosis, suicide, seizures, heart attack, and damage to certain key internal organs are some of the potential side effects that may arise when you abuse these drugs.
NIDA also reports that the risk for sudden overdose is quite high when people abuse designer and synthetic drugs. This is because users might not know the chemicals that were used to make these substances - which could lead to lethal interactions with your body and/or brain.
Although most of these adverse side effects tend to be short term, abusing synthetic substances over the long term and on a regular basis could further ingrain the chemical and physical changes the drugs cause to your brain and body.
For instance, the drugs might negatively disrupt the neurotransmitters that are naturally responsible for flowing through your brain and causing feelings of happiness and pleasure as well as controlling your impulses and regulating your mood.
Eventually, they may alter your brain and cause it to develop chemical dependence to these drugs. Once that happens, your brain might not work like it should when you don't abuse the drugs.
If you decide to quit abusing synthetic drugs, you might experience adverse withdrawal symptoms on account of this chemical dependence. When this happens, you may feel restless, irritable, depressed, and anxious unless you take the substances.
As you can see, synthetic drugs are dangerous and come with a high risk of dependence and addiction. In case you have been abusing them for a long time, the only way you can stop is by undergoing medically managed detox and rehabilitation and treatment for your addiction. The earlier you get started on the road to recovery, the easier it will be for you in the long run and - eventually - you might find that you no longer need synthetic substances to function normally.