The development of synthetic drugs has given rise to hundreds of new substances, potentially more dangerous and life-threatening than the next. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2014 Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment, the number of synthetic drugs available has increased by 435% in only five years — from 80 identified substances in 2008 to 348 in 2013.
These numbers continue to increase dramatically in current years as more and more substances are being altered slightly from their original form to escape regulation and control, causing difficulty in tracking and monitoring by governing bodies.
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What Are Synthetic Drugs?
The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act passed in 2012 and placed many synthetic compounds into Schedule I meaning they are illegal in the United States and considered dangerous. They have no approved medicinal value and are likely addictive. Unfortunately, some are marketing these substances under the label “not for human consumption” to avoid FDA regulation. The following are some of the more common synthetic drugs. However, this is not an all-inclusive list.
Synthetic cathinone drugs are human-made stimulants originating from the khat plant. They are known as “bath salts,” bearing a close resemblance to the Epsom salts used to take a relaxing soak in the bathtub; however, their reported effects on the body are quite the opposite despite a similarity in resemblance. They can comprise methylone, mephedrone, and MDPV.
MDPV alone impacts the brain similarly to cocaine but is at least 10x more powerful. MDPV is also the most common synthetic cathinone in patients admitted to the emergency room after taking “bath salts.”
Many of these synthetic stimulants are available for purchase in smoke shops, head shops, convenience stores, adult stores, gas stations, and on the Internet under the premise that they are “not for human consumption.”
Also Known As: “Bath Salts,” “Bliss,” “White Lightning,” “Cloud-9,” “Lunar Wave,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Meow Meow,” among many other names.
What They Do
Synthetic cathinones are amphetamines, and thus they act like other amphetamines and can be consumed in similar ways to amphetamine drugs. They are said to cause numerous side-effects such as paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, acute psychosis, aggressive or violent behaviors, increased friendliness, increased sex drive, panic attacks, headaches, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, sweating, seizures, breakdown of skeletal muscle and tissue, and increased body temperature.
Are They Addictive?
Yes, they can be addictive. In both animal and human studies, drug use can trigger intense urges to consume the drug again. For example, studies show that rats were compulsively self-administering more of the substance. Likewise, humans studies show an increase in reporting of cravings and an urge for more. Synthetic cathinones can also cause intense withdrawal symptoms, including depression, anxiety, tremors, difficulty sleeping, and paranoia.
As the name implies, “synthetic cannabis” comprises several compounds (cannabicyclohexanol, HU-210, JWH-018, and JWH-073) that are similar to chemicals in the marijuana plant. Unfortunately, due to the similarity, many believe these to be a safe alternative to marijuana. The reality is that they are not safe and can impact the brain with more power than marijuana. As a result, the effects can be unpredictable and potentially life-threatening.
They are available for purchase under the pretense of an “herbal incense” or “potpourri,” along with several other names. They also come with a label “not for human consumption” to shield manufacturers and sellers from prosecution. Generally, the most common way to use synthetic cannabis is to smoke the dried material, inhale a liquid form through the use of a vaporizer, or drink a tea brewed.
Also Known As: “Spice” or “K2,” in addition to “Blaze,” “Blueberry,” “Dank,” “Haze,” “Joker,” “Kush,” “Magma,” “Ninja,” “Nitro,” “Ultra,” and “Voodoo,” among many other names.
What They Do
Synthetic cannabis may get the user high, but it often leads to something much more severe. There are numerous compositions of synthetic cannabis. And the composition can be drastically different between batches. As a result, dramatically different effects can occur then the user may anticipate.
Some reported effects include elevated mood, relaxation, altered perception, psychosis symptoms, anxiety, confusion, paranoia, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, vomiting, seizures, and violent behavior. In 2016, there were approximately 2,695 calls to poison control centers for harmful exposure to these substances.
The use of synthetic cannabis is also significantly more common among younger populations versus older adults. Synthetic cannabis contains no THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that drug tests detect. Thus, many users use the drug without failing a urine drug screen.
Are They Addictive?
Synthetic cannabis can be addictive. Regular users of the substance have reported withdrawals included headaches, anxiety, depression, and irritability.
Synthetic Opioids (Fentanyl)
Synthetic opioids do have medical use approved for use by the FDA for pain relief and an anesthetic. According to the 2020 DEA Resource Guide, it is approximately 100x more potent than morphine and 50x more potent than heroin.
Clandestinely produced synthetic opioids have re-emerged significantly since 2013 in both trafficking and abuse, including several related to Fentanyl. Some examples include acetyl fentanyl, butyryl fentanyl, beta-hydroxythiofentanyl, furanyl fentanyl, and U-47700.
Unfortunately, there has been a dramatic increase in fatal overdoses related to Fentanyl, which continues to increase each year. In 2018, there were approximately 31,335 fatal overdoses related to illicitly produced fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.
Also Known As: “Apache,” “China Girl,” “China Town,” “Dance Fever,” “Friend,” “Goodfellas,” “Great Bear,” “He-Man,” “Jackpot,” “King Ivory,” “Murder 8,” “Tango & Cash,” among many others.
What They Do
Fentanyl is similar to other commonly used opioids in that the effects it has on the user. These include relaxation, euphoria, pain relief, sedation, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and respiratory depression. Since Fentanyl is significantly more potent than other opioids, the risk of fatal overdose with minimal amounts of the drug is considerably higher. Fentanyl can also be mixed in with other drugs under this class (i.e., heroin, pill forms), prompting concern that what someone may think they are getting is not actually what they are ingesting and increasing the risk of overdose.
Are They Addictive?
Synthetic opioids are highly addictive and result in withdrawal symptoms.
What Makes Synthetic Drugs Special?
Synthetic drugs are continually evolving and developing. As a result, many government agencies cannot keep up with the various drugs on the market. Those who dedicate their research to identifying the effects of these drugs are unable to keep up with the increasing number of substances. Substances that vary by only one molecule in their makeup but prompt drastically different results.
However, if there was ever a silver lining, the police, doctors, and addiction treatment specialists knew what they were dealing with when it came to conventional pills and powders.
If you or a loved one is struggling with synthetic drug addiction, seek help. Lighthouse Recovery Institute is available to help you understand your options and find the right path for recovery.