Designer Drugs: What They Are & Their Dangers
Oftentimes, the term ‘designer’ refers to luxury goods that are materialized from ideas of known experts in their industry. What about “designer drugs”? Are they safe, and what do we know about them so far? Learn more through this post.
What Is A Designer Drug?
We hear about them in the news—stories of parties for the elite, concerts, and college get-togethers being raided as people are found in possession of designer drugs. Commonly attractive in appearance, designer drugs are meant to lure the younger, more sophisticated crowd. These little pills or powders have catchy names, purposely given to hint at their effects and to mask their identity among those unaware of the drug-dealing bubble.
The Rise Of Designer Drugs
What are designer drugs? These substances are created in underground labs and sold on the black market. Designer drugs usually imitate the components of controlled medications or street drugs, with the purpose of circumventing current substance control laws.
Designer drugs rose in popularity back in the 1980s, which was introduced in the form of MDMA. Other original terms such as “China White” became popularized in California around this time period.
Now, there are several types of designer drugs that are produced locally in secret laboratories. Some of them are also smuggled from East Asia and Central America. When distributed, they are labeled as “bath salts”, “research chemicals” or “not for human consumption” materials. They fall under various drug categories, meant to mimic the effects of the following popular illicit substances:
What Are The Types Of Designer Drugs?
As previously stated, designer drugs usually replicate the effects of well-known controlled or illicit substances. However, they are usually more potent as they are created synthetically with mild to moderate modifications in the chemical form. These are the various examples of designer drugs:
Common Designer Drugs
This drug has the street name “pink”, “pinky” or “U4”. It is a substance chemically similar to heroin and is very potent when injected or snorted. U-47700 is usually pinkish-white in appearance, hence the nickname. This substance is known for its analgesic effects, which is comparable to prescription opioids or street heroin.
In some instances, U-47700 would be packaged to look like legal painkillers. This is done to avoid being reprimanded when in possession of the designer drug.
This designer drug is one of the most popular on the list, as it is known to mimic the effects of morphine, but is 80-100 times stronger. Some designer drug makers also add fentanyl along with heroin to the mix, with the intent of increasing its potency.
Fentanyl can be injected or inhaled like heroin, but its effects are more dramatic in terms of the short-term feelings of euphoria, slower breathing, and lower blood pressure.
The THC component naturally found in the marijuana plant can be recreated in the lab–the result is this designer drug called “spice” or “K2”. In appearance, it looks like the dried leaves of the marijuana plant, but it is actually plant-based material that has been sprayed with synthetic THC.
Like natural marijuana, synthetic marijuana also has psychoactive properties. It can be smoked using joints, pipes, or e-cigarettes. “Spice” is likely to be more addictive than marijuana because the potency of these substances is modified and impossible to be determined by the user.
Chances are, you’ve probably watched videos of Flakka users in the news. Flakka or alpha-PVP is a type of dangerous designer drug which copies the effects of the street drug called “bath salts”. This type of drug can be eaten, snorted, used in e-cigarettes or taken intravenously.
The main reason why Flakka is dangerous for users is its high level of potency and life-threatening side effects. Those who use this substance may experience paranoia, aggression towards others, and self-injury. Overdosing on Flakka has been linked to high death rates.
Popularized in the 1990s, ecstasy (MDMA) are types of club designer drugs that have psychoactive properties. They are usually used in raves, techno-parties, and other social engagements in order to heighten one’s sensations and improve intimacy even towards strangers.
These substances are passed around at parties in small packets of pills, which sometimes appear like children’s vitamin tablets or candies for novelty.
What Are The Effects Of Designer Drugs?
The main intent of those who create designer drugs is to replicate the effects of the actual substances’ chemical components. For example, U-47700 has the pain-killing and relaxing effects similar to heroin, and synthetic marijuana can also recreate the hallucinations done by natural marijuana.
However, it is important to note that designer drugs are not regulated like prescribed opioids and other medications. This means that their potency cannot be determined or if there are other substances that could harm the user.
Additionally, these designer drugs are made in labs that are uninspected by governing authorities. In other words, they are created illegally–you may end up harming your health as well as your personal safety when in possession of these substances.
As for studies on the side effects of designer drugs, researchers have discovered that these substances have the risk of the following:
- Acute Toxicity: Adverse effects within 14 days of using designer drugs. They present various physical and psychiatric effects such as vomiting, loss of consciousness, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, depression, and delusions.
- Tachycardia: Designer drugs which are stimulants or analgesics in nature may cause users to experience tachycardia or an irregular heartbeat. When left untreated, tachycardia may end in complications such as heart failure or heart attack.
- Increased risk of addiction: Drug potency is a factor in the risk of addiction. Some designer drug makers intentionally increase the potency of the substances in order to improve their market sales. Thus, designer drugs may be even more addictive than their controlled counterparts.
- Organ problems: Aside from the risk of addiction, designer drugs are unpredictable. When substances are not regulated, there might be other chemicals that can cause reactions in other people. For example, synthetic heroin may be mixed with cocaine, which is a lethal combination when taken in large amounts. These mixtures can cause breathing problems, liver damage, and cardiac issues.
- Overdose: Being unaware of the actual components in designer drugs, users have the risk of having an overdose and overdose-related death. Synthetic opioids have been the cause of 50% of all overdose deaths in 2016, and the numbers are increasing.
Dangers Of Designer Drugs
The unregulated nature of designer drugs makes it difficult for users to determine what dosages are safe to take. Even if they do take minimal amounts, these substances may be different in chemical components even if it is labeled as the same drug. In fact, each pill or powder packet may be different in potency from another batch, even if a user is told that they are from a similar source.
Thus, the risks of taking designer drugs include:
- Overdosing due to irregular chemical components
- Adverse health side effects due to various chemical combinations
- Death due to overdose or chemical poisoning
Designer Drug Addiction
Designer drug addiction is more common than most people think. It can help to know some signs that would confirm that an addiction in present in yourself or a loved one:
- Use of the drug in increasing doses and frequency
- Have experienced overdose and other negative side effects due to drug use
- Lifestyle changes related to drug use, such as neglecting personal responsibilities and run-ins with law enforcement
- Relationship problems related to drug use
- Health changes (physical appearance, heart problems, lung issues, mental health conditions)
- Hiding drug paraphernalia or having suspicious activities
If you see any of these signs in yourself or a loved one, know that help for designer drug addiction is available. Although these substances are potent, rehabilitation is effective and recovery is possible.
Treatment For Designer Drug Addiction
There are a variety of treatment options for designer drug addiction, whether you plan to have an inpatient or outpatient program. After having an assessment with an addiction specialist or healthcare professional, the things you may expect include the three stages of drug rehab: Detox, Treatment and Aftercare.
In detox, you will be provided with the necessary medical support in order to “flush out” the effects of designer drugs in your body. Treatment includes the various 12-step, non-12-step, holistic, and other programs that can help you overcome the underlying causes of addiction and other mental health problems. An aftercare plan will also be provided in order to improve your chances of a long-lasting recovery.
Designer Items? Definitely Not In Drugs!
Designer goods may provide you novelty and a sense of status, but this is certainly not the case for designer drugs. The dangers of abusing these substances outweigh the benefits. However, designer drug addiction can be overcome with the decision to make a change in one’s life and a rehabilitation strategy in place.
- CBS News. Designer Drug 2 C-E: “Concerning Trend” For Teens.
- NCBI. Designer Drugs: Past History and Future Prospects.
- DEA. Designer Drugs.
- DEA. U-47700
- DEA. Synthetic Marijuana.
- DEA. Flakka (alpha-PVP).
- AAFP. Club Drugs: MDMA, Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate, Rohypnol, and Ketamine.
- NCBI. Designer Drugs 2015: Assessment and Management.
- NIDA. Fentanyl.
- NIH. Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids Drug Overdose Deaths.
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