Synthetic Designer Drugs and the Dangers they Impose to Young Americans

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Calendar icon Last Updated: 04/9/2019
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There is an increasing need for substance abuse treatments involving synthetic designer drugs that continue to plague society, especially younger individuals. Everyone should be aware of these potential threats and the dangers they impose.

Threats to the Young

Facing the issues of drug abuse in the young is always a contentious subject when we, as parents hope that we instill enough love, wisdom, and courage into our children to make the most healthy choices for themselves, but, face these issues we must. Our children are living in a brave new world where, unlike times of past, the speed of life is often overwhelming. Keeping up with new technologies, social inclusions or peer pressures, and the dramatic witnessing of drug abuse, despite the best efforts of parents to protect them, the global influx of drugs and other chemical threats pose serious risks that are even faster.

Some of the most problematic exposures are synthetic designer drugs that are available through local headshops, convenience stores, and gas stations where they are displayed in bright colors with animated figures or cartoons to entice the curiosities of the young. According to the DEA 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment, “These drugs are often marketed under varieties such as blueberry, strawberry, mango, and bubblegum, to entice consumption. The use of legitimate-looking packaging, coupled with availability in conventional stores, greatly reduces the stigma of these drugs.”

What Are Synthetic Designer Drugs?

Synthetic designer drugs are often similar in structure to other well known drugs or derived from a whole list of unknown or adulterated chemicals that mimic the effects of popular drugs, but, too often with disastrous consequences. These drugs that are man-made or synthetic and labeled “not for human consumption” hit the mix between those substances that are deemed “legal” versus those that are controlled by the DEA, promoting ease of access and less legal consequences if caught using, buying, or selling.

Many of these drugs are made in clandestine labs and distributed in mass quantities under revised brand names and packaging that continuously change to mask their intended purpose and deter oversight or legal limitations to their distributions. Other synthetic designer drugs are disguised as some of the well known drugs that experienced users have come to believe pose no serious threats to them; only to find out, after consuming, that they have been “duped”.

Most Common Synthetic Designer Drugs

One of the most common examples of synthetic designer drugs is synthetic cathinones, namely methylone, currently being passed off as MDMA, ecstasy, and “molly”. Cathinones have commonly been known as bath salts and mimic the effects of stimulants such as amphetamines, meth, or cocaine. They are notorious for their many ills and psychotic dangers. According to the DEA, “While many indicators suggest declining abuse levels of synthetic cathinones, many distributors have “rebranded” these drugs as MDMA, “molly,” or “flakka” thereby users may not be aware they are consuming a synthetic cathinone or bath salts.”

Synthetic marijuana marketed as herbal incense, a.k.a. “spice” or “K2”, is a favorite among adolescents who may have their first drug exposures linked to marijuana. The substances mimic the THC contents of marijuana, but, with unpredictable side effects. According to the SAMHSA, “The adverse effects of synthetic cannabinoids include severe agitation, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, tachycardia (racing heartbeat), elevated blood pressure, tremors, seizures, hallucinations, paranoid behavior, and non-responsiveness. After regular consumption, withdrawal signs and symptoms have been observed. Death after use of synthetic cannabinoids has also been reported.”

Phenethylamines including the NBOMes (N-methoxybenzyl), are organic substances that act as potent psychedelic drugs, (a.k.a. 25I-NBOMe, 25B-NBOMe, and 25C-NBOMe) by affecting the central nervous system. These drugs were placed on Schedule I under the DEA Controlled Substances Act in 2013 after being linked to multiple deaths.

Sweeping Increases in Other Dangerous Drugs

Most of us are aware that drugs in America are big business. From the opioids and other controlled prescription drugs to heroin, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, hallucinogens, and synthetic designer drugs, whatever brings in the money is worth selling or trade to unscrupulous individuals who are only concerned with profits.

One of the favorite past times of raves and light shows is the use of MDMA or molly, but, more often, the assumed drugs are actually chemical variations for which, dealers could care less about the consequences to their buyers. More recently, attempts to provide chemical tester kits have been promoted to enhance safety at certain events popular among designer drug abusers. Because the synthetic designer drugs are subject to frequent changes or sketchy replacements, there is no way to prevent the risk of danger without refraining from use.

Other Dangerous Side Effects

In younger individuals under the age of 25, the brain is still developing and since these are the individuals who appear to consume these types of drugs the most, awareness is crucial. Like the drugs that they mimic, synthetic designer drugs can cause a broad range of unanticipated effects including addiction and serious physical or mental health problems.

We do know that toxicities combined with altered brain and neurological functions can lead to severe anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability, aggression, schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders from using these drugs. Suicidal, violent, and bizarre behaviors have been witnessed along with seizures, organ failures, comas, and death.

Although the long term impacts are largely unknown, the side effects are alarming. Self harms and harms to others are touted in the news daily as people are affected in the most unpredictable, negative, and violent ways. Any physical or mental health effect may be long term or permanently disabling and substance abuse treatment is advisable to stop the abuse and find support to make healthy behavioral changes.