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What Are “Designer” Drugs and Why Are They Dangerous

Skull shaped ecstasy

“Designer” is a term used to describe a wide variety of drugs that are produced in labs using synthetic chemicals. Many of these drugs fall under the party drug heading, like MDMA (ecstasy, Molly), or Ketamine (Special K). Another area of designer drugs is those that are meant to mimic the effects of other drugs like meth, cocaine or marijuana. These imposter drugs can be found easily online, or even at local gas station counters. Teens view synthetic designer drugs as less harmful than the “real” substances, but this doesn’t tell the whole story.

Increased Risks

There are several reasons why synthetic designer drugs are often more risky to use than the substances they are designed to mimic. First off, the ingredient list for these substances is ever-changing, so you can’t be sure what you’re taking with each dose. Manufacturers are constantly altering the formula to avoid legal problems with the FDA, so it’s impossible to know what each dose is really made of. Most synthetic drugs are made from dried leaves or corn starch, laced with dangerous chemicals. Oftentimes, the synthetic drug is actually more concentrated and powerful than the original, so its side effects are more extreme.  For instance, the mild paranoia that is sometimes associated with marijuana use is exacerbated to psychotic levels with its synthetic counterpart, spice. 

Symptoms of Use

The powerful high that teens who use synthetic drugs are seeking is not the only thing they get with each dose. Dangerous side effects range from dehydration to death. Because it’s impossible to accurately measure dosage, users are risking an overdose and other dangerous side effects each time they use. Some of the harmful symptoms of synthetic designer drug use include:

  • Violent agitation 
  • Increased sweating 
  • Loss of control 
  • Pale skin
  • Decreased motor function
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Cessation of breathing
  • Death

Education Is Key to Reducing Abuse

Recent studies have shown that teen drug use is actually declining, as more and more teens are educated on the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol. The problem with synthetic designer drugs is that they are marketed in a way that leads teens to believe that they are less harmful than other types of drugs. Talking to your kids about the specific dangers of synthetic designer drugs is a key prevention factor. Be clear with them that, even though these drugs may be easy to obtain, they are just as harmful, if not more so, as the drugs they are meant to mimic.