What Are Designer Drugs?

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Designer drugs like synthetic marijuana and the bath salt drug are engineered in laboratories to mimic the effects of traditional illicit drugs like marijuana, meth, MDMA, opioids, LSD, and ketamine. These chemically distinct compounds often exploit loopholes in regulations, making them legally accessible. Their unique structures allow them to evade scrutiny and oversight, and lead to increased availability.

What are designer drugs, then, and why are they so dangerous?

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Designer Drug Definition

The designer drugs definition according to the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) incorporates the following seven types of designer drugs:

  • Synthetic cannabinoids
  • Phenethylamines
  • Phencyclidines or arylcyclohexamines
  • Tryptamines
  • Piperazines
  • Pipradrols
  • N-ring systems

 These designer drugs are intentionally developed to replicate the effects of illicit substances that are widely known and prohibited. While most of them function similarly to cocaine or other stimulants, there is one particular type, synthetic cannabinoids, that operates differently. Synthetic cannabinoids mimic the actions of marijuana and are the most prevalent of all designer drugs.

 Designer drugs are also known as designer pills, fashion drugs, legal highs, bathroom drugs, or synthetic drugs.

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Examples of Designer Drugs

These are the most common examples of designer drugs:

  1. Bath salts
  2. Synthetic cannabinoids
  3. Designer hallucinogens
  4. Methoxetamine
  5. Kratom

1) Bath salts

Synthetic cathinones, commonly referred to as bath salts, are chemical compounds derived from cathinone, a stimulant naturally found in the khat plant. These substances have gained considerable attention recently, as many of the most popular legal highs fall under the category of synthetic cathinones.

 Marketized as substitutes for illicit psychostimulants like methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA, designer stimulants are obtainable through online platforms, head shops, and convenience stores. They typically come in powder or crystalline form and can be ingested orally, snorted, or injected.

 Among the more well-known synthetic cathinones are:

  • Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV)
  • Mephedrone
  • Methylone
  • α-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (α-PVP)

 Law enforcement agencies and health organizations worldwide have identified over 50 distinct synthetic cathinones to date.

 The adverse effects associated with synthetic cathinones overlap with those of commonly abused stimulants and typically subside a few hours or days after ingestion. However, there have been reports of more severe, potentially lethal consequences among users, including:

  • Liver failure
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Suicidal ideation 
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Heart attack
  • Long-term cognitive issues

2) Synthetic cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are substances produced in laboratory settings that aim to replicate the intoxicating effects induced by consuming or smoking marijuana. These synthetic compounds are available in two primary forms:

  1. Sprayed onto dried plant material for smoking purposes.
  2. Formulated as a liquid suitable for use in e-cigarettes and various vaporizers.

 There are over 100 distinct synthetic cannabinoids designated by technical names comprising alphanumeric strings, such as JWH-018 and WIN55-212-2.

 Due to the limited availability of clinical trial data and the relatively short history of synthetic cannabinoid abuse, it is challenging to determine their long-term effects. While most side effects tend to subside within a couple of days, there have been reports of more severe consequences, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Ischemic stroke
  • Acute kidney injury

 Additionally, dangerous psychiatric effects have been documented, with some episodes lasting for weeks or even months, including:

  • Thought disorder
  • Suicidal ideation

3) Designer hallucinogens

Designer hallucinogens, otherwise known as psychedelics, are substances that induce profound alterations in an individual’s perception of the surrounding environment. These drugs can distort sensory experiences, making sensations like sight, sound, or touch feel unreal, dreamlike, or even terrifying. They can also affect other aspects of perception, such as the perception of time, self-identity, and rational thinking. Originally, hallucinogenic drugs came from plants like fungi or their extracts. Examples include mescaline from the peyote cactus and psilocybin from certain mushrooms.

 The illicit drug market offers a vast array of designer hallucinogens under various names. Among these, two drugs and their analogs have gained significant attention from medical professionals due to their widespread use in recent years.

 The first drug is scientifically known as 1-(8-bromobenzo[1,2-b;4,5-b’]difuran-4-yl)-2-aminopropane hydrochloride, but it is commonly referred to as Bromo-dragonFLY due to its structural resemblance to an insect.

 The second category of designer hallucinogens that have become prevalent includes 2-(4-chloro-2,5-dimethoxyphenyl)-N-[(2-methoxyphenyl)methyl]ethanamine and its derivatives, also referred to as 25C-NBOMe, 25B-NBOMe, and 25I-NBOMe. These drugs are available illegally as smiles, N-bomb, 25B, 25C, and 25I. Disturbingly, some of these substances, which have reported lethal toxicities, are deceptively marketed as LSD.

 While there is limited experimental data on the toxic complications triggered by synthetic hallucinogens, the medical literature has documented numerous severe reactions in users. Common adverse effects reported include kidney failure, seizures, increased body temperature,, psychosis, self-harming, and even death. 

4) Methoxetamine

Methoxetamine is a dissociative anesthetic. These drugs share similarities with hallucinogens in that they can alter perceptions and induce visual and auditory hallucinations. However, dissociative drugs differ from traditional psychedelic hallucinogens like LSD and peyote in that they produce a distinct sense of detachment, or dissociation, from oneself and the surrounding environment.

 PCP (phencyclidine) and ketamine are examples of dissociative drugs originally developed as anesthetics. Over time, recreational abuse of these substances became prevalent. As a result, there is a demonstrated demand for designer drugs, such as methoxetamine, that mimic the effects of ketamine. These designer drugs are typically unregulated and may be more accessible on the illicit market.

5) Kratom

Kratom technically encompasses a group of plants that are related to coffee. In Western contexts, kratom specifically refers to a particular species of plant called Mitragyna speciosa, which is native to Southeast Asia.

 Kratom has a long history of traditional use in countries like Thailand and its neighboring regions, spanning many centuries. It has been consumed either by chewing the leaves or brewing them into a tea. Kratom is known for its stimulant effects, its pain-relieving properties, and its potential as a remedy for the symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

 In recent years, kratom has gained popularity in the United States and is now available as a legal high. Although numerous websites promote kratom as a herbal remedy for pain management and as a self-administered aid for opiate withdrawal, kratom itself can be highly addictive and can become a problem of its own if not managed properly. 

Designer Drug Addiction

In recent years, the rise of designer drugs has presented a significant challenge in the realm of substance abuse and addiction. These synthetic substances, engineered to mimic the effects of traditional illicit drugs, have gained popularity due to their accessibility and often unregulated nature. However, the allure of these designer drugs comes with a range of risks, including the potential for addiction.

 Designer drug addiction is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive understanding of its unique challenges. Unlike well-known illicit substances, designer drugs often have ever-evolving chemical compositions, making them difficult to track and regulate. This constant adaptation allows these drugs to bypass legal restrictions and testing protocols, putting people at greater risk.

 The dangers of designer drug addiction extend beyond the uncertainty of chemical compositions. These substances can have severe and unpredictable effects on the body and mind, leading to a range of physical, psychological, and social consequences. From cardiovascular problems and organ damage to mental health issues and strained relationships, the impact of designer drug addiction can be devastating.

 Recognizing the signs of designer drug addiction is crucial for early intervention and treatment. Common indicators may include:

  • Persistent cravings and preoccupation with using designer drugs.
  • Increased tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve desired effects.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit or reduce drug use.
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home due to drug use.
  • Engaging in risky behaviors to obtain or use designer drugs.
  • Financial difficulties due to excessive spending on drugs.
  • Strained relationships with loved ones or social withdrawal.

 If you or a loved one is struggling with designer drug addiction, seeking professional help is essential. Treatment programs tailored to address addiction to designer drugs can provide the necessary support and guidance for recovery. These programs often incorporate a combination of medical detoxification, counseling, behavioral therapies, and holistic approaches to address the physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of addiction.

 Remember, recovery from designer drug addiction is possible with the right support and treatment. By reaching out to addiction specialists and exploring appropriate treatment options, individuals can embark on a journey toward lasting sobriety and improved well-being.

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Get Treatment for Designer Drug Addiction at California Detox

For those who find themselves grappling with the clutches of designer drug addiction, California Detox in Laguna Beach stands ready to offer an array of comprehensive treatment options.

 Embark upon the most seamless route to recovery through our closely supervised medical detox program, which caters to both outpatient and inpatient rehab. Benefit from the availability of medications that not only facilitate withdrawal but also assuage cravings. Following detoxification, a smooth transition awaits you into one of our esteemed treatment programs, including:

  • Medically supervised detox
  • Inpatient program (residential rehab)
  • Dual diagnosis treatment program (for co-occurring disorders)

 At California Detox, each treatment program is custom-tailored to suit your unique needs, blending evidence-based interventions with holistic therapies to foster a comprehensive approach to addiction recovery. Our offerings encompass:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Psychotherapy (CBT and DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapies
  • Aftercare

Do not hesitate to reach out to our admissions team at 949.694.8305 for immediate assistance on your journey to reclaiming a life free from the shackles of addiction.


The term “designer drug” refers to synthetic substances that are created to mimic the effects of illegal drugs, often with slight modifications to their chemical structure to evade legal regulations.
“RC drugs” stands for Research Chemical drugs, which are experimental substances synthesized for scientific research purposes but can sometimes be misused recreationally due to their psychoactive properties.


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