Designer Drugs: What They Are & Their Dangers

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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 illegally imported 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:

  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • MDMA
  • Marijuana

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 is a synthetic opioid that has pain-killing and relaxing effects similar to heroin. Similarly, 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 that 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 symptoms and signs to become more aware of  addiction in yourself or a loved one:

  • Use of the drug in increasing doses and frequency
  • Have experienced an 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.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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