What Are Designer Drugs

A designer drug (also called a synthetic drug) is created by copying or changing parts of drugs that are controlled, to make a new drug with very different chemicals. This new drug acts like the original ones in terms of its effects on the body.

These drugs are made secretly in labs to copy the effects of substances like LSD, amphetamines, marijuana,ecstasy, ketamine, and other drugs.

People make designer drugs in hidden labs to copy the effects of drugs that are controlled, like making a fake version. Unlike legally made drugs, these designer drugs are produced in labs that don’t follow rules. Each batch can be different in what it contains and how it affects people.

People who use these drugs can’t be sure what they’re actually using. They might believe these drugs are not illegal because they come from controlled substances.

For some people, especially younger ones who call them “legal highs,” the fact that it’s not clear if these designer drugs are legal or not makes them more interesting.

Because these drugs are used at places like bars, nightclubs, and concerts, they are sometimes called “club drugs.”

There are three types of synthetic drugs: cathinone, cannabinoids, and opioids.

The label that says “Not for Human Consumption” is a trick

To make the legality of designer drugs even more confusing, they are sometimes called “herbal incense” or “not for human consumption.” But they’re actually made for people to use, not for incense.

People are worried about young people using these drugs. They have bright packages and catchy names, and since they’re sold without age restrictions, they attract teenagers who might want to try drugs.

Do Designer Drugs Have Side Effects

Yes, like most drugs, designer drugs can cause side effects.

  • Good effects like feeling very happy or excited
  • Feeling more interested in sex
  • Feeling more open and understanding
  • Being very awake and energetic
  • But there can be bad effects too, like:
  • Getting too hot and sweaty
  • Feeling very anxious or scared
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Clenching your jaw
  • Feeling restless and angry
  • Eyes becoming big and sensitive to light
  • Heart beating really fast

When Were the First Designer Drugs Made

In 1925, there was a meeting about drugs, and they said no to the usual bad drugs like heroin and morphine. So, people secretly started making similar drugs from morphine.

Then, a group tried to control all these similar drugs. This going back and forth between making drugs illegal and making new secret drugs continued for a long time.

In the 1960s, many new secret drugs were made, and in the 1980s, people started using the term “designer drug” for man-made opioids, mostly based on something called fentanyl.

Later, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, people used the internet to sell designer drugs a lot. This made these drugs very popular and many were sold.

Why Are They Liked

More people want these designer drugs because they are being sold a lot illegally. Also, using these drugs doesn’t get you in trouble with the law. Plus, they have to make a new test for each new drug, which is hard.

The people who make tests for drugs are trying really hard to catch up with all these new drugs.

But, there’s a bad side too. These drugs being liked so much might be the reason why, even though doctors have given out 44 percent fewer painkillers in the last 10 years, the number of deadly and non-deadly drug overdoses keeps going up.

What Does the US Government Do About Designer Drugs

In 2012, the US Government made a law called the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act (SDAPA). This law put many fake substances in the same group as very bad drugs and made them really hard to use.

They also controlled things like fake marijuana and some other fake drugs. Some fake drugs were only controlled for a short time, but then they became controlled all the time. There was another fake drug that was controlled for a little while in 2018.

Some other fake drugs that are like these might also be treated like the very bad drugs if they are used in certain ways.

US Drug Enforcement Administration Challenges

There is a big job for a group called the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). They make sure bad drugs are not used and sold. But the problem is, new fake drugs are not against the law until we know exactly what they are and test them. This makes it hard because we can’t test people to see if they used these drugs.

Three Types of Designer Drugs

There are many fake drugs being made secretly, so we don’t know all of them. But some of the most famous ones are mentioned below (for now).

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Fake marijuana acts like the happy feeling from real marijuana. It comes in two main forms:

  • A liquid that people use in e-cigarettes or vaporizers.
  • Sprayed on dried plant parts and smoked like real marijuana.

But fake marijuana is much stronger than real one. So, it can give people big problems like strong anxiety, getting angry, high blood pressure, and feeling like they want to throw up.

Fake marijuana has different names, like K2, Kush, Spice, Joker, Black Mamba, and Kronic.

Health Effects

  • Feeling sick and throwing up
  • Strong anxiety and being very upset
  • Blood pressure going up

Synthetic Cathinones: Stimulants

Fake energy drugs are made to copy the happy and strange things that real drugs like cocaine, LSD, and methamphetamine do.

One popular type looks like bath salts used for relaxing baths, but they’re not real bath salts. They are sometimes called bath salts to hide what they really are, like plant food or stuff to clean jewelry. Most of them are similar to a substance in a plant called khat.

About ten years ago, when they first came to the US, it wasn’t against the law to make or have these fake energy drugs unless they were made for people to use.

People use fake energy drugs to replace illegal drugs like cocaine and ecstasy. These fake drugs are sold in stores, online, and in shops.

These new fake drugs can make people feel really scared, see things that aren’t there, get very upset, feel like everyone is against them, and do dangerous things.

Street Names

Fake energy drugs have many names online. Some common names are:

  • Cloud Nine
  • Vanilla Sky
  • Ivory Wave
  • Gravel
  • Meow-meow
  • MMC Hammer
  • PVP (Flakka)
  • Bath salts
  • Mephedrone (Meph)
  • M-Cat
  • Bubbles

Health Effects

  • Can’t breathe properly
  • Heart attack
  • Brain problems for a long time
  • Liver damage
  • Thinking about hurting oneself or wanting to die
  • Bad kidney problems

Synthetic Opioids

Fake painkillers are made in a lab and copy the strong pain-relieving effects of real painkillers. Some of the first ones made were like morphine and heroin, which came from a plant called opium.

A very strong new fake painkiller is fentanyl. It’s much, much stronger than morphine. People sometimes mix it with illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, and others.

Sadly, these fake painkillers, especially fentanyl, are causing the most deaths from taking too much in the United States.

Effects on Health

  • Feeling sleepy
  • Wanting to throw up
  • Trouble going to the bathroom
  • Being confused
  • Hard time breathing
  • Falling asleep without knowing

Designer Hallucinogens

There are many different special drugs that can make your mind see things that aren’t real. Some of them have different names. Here are a few:

Ecstasy (MDMA)

Ecstasy is a drug that can make you feel awake and make you see things that aren’t real. People also call it “molly,” but its real name is 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). It’s like a cousin of another drug called amphetamine. Ecstasy and another drug called methamphetamine (“meth”) are very similar in their parts.

This drug can make you feel happy, warm, full of energy, and you might see and hear things that aren’t there. It can also make your senses go weird, and you might feel time in a strange way.


Methamphetamine is a very powerful and addictive drug. It makes your brain and body act fast and excited. It looks like white crystals and can dissolve in water or alcohol. People might feel really chatty, active, and not want to eat much. They can also feel very happy. These effects make it a drug people use a lot.


Rohypnol is a fake drug sold as a sleeping pill, but it’s not allowed in the US. It’s sometimes used in bad situations to make people sleepy and forget things, even important stuff. This drug can make blood pressure go down, make you dizzy, sleepy, and forgetful. Even though it’s supposed to calm you, some people become very aggressive or excited after using it.

Special Drugs: Ketamine and Flakka


Ketamine was first made for animals in the 1960s in Belgium. Then, in 1970, it was allowed to be used for people as an anesthesia. It was even used to help hurt soldiers in the Vietnam War. Unlike other drugs for sleep, ketamine doesn’t slow down your heart or make you breathe slower. This means you don’t need a machine to help you breathe.

Flakka (Alpha-PVP)

Flakka is a fake drug that’s like another fake drug called “Bath Salts.” It acts like a drug that’s naturally found in a plant called khat. Flakka can make people act violently, see things that aren’t real, get very scared, and even hurt themselves.


U-47700 is a really strong fake painkiller. People call it “U4,” “pinky,” or “pink.” It looks like white or light pink powder. Sometimes, it’s made into pills that look like real pain pills, or it’s sold in small bags. People use it like other strong painkillers and illegal drugs.

GHB (Gamma hydroxybutyrate)

GHB is a drug that makes you feel slow and tired. It’s been used by body builders and people at parties. Some people use it for bad reasons, like to hurt others.


LSD is a famous drug that makes you see things that aren’t real. It’s very strong and was made a long time ago. It comes from a fungus that grows on grains. LSD can make you see weird things, hear strange sounds, and feel scared or your heart can beat really fast.

People like these drugs because they give them a special feeling, like a trip, within half an hour after taking them.

Can You Get Addicted to Special Drugs?

Yes, like with other drugs, you might get really hooked on special drugs, just like getting addicted to them. Even if you don’t get addicted, you could still have a problem using them too much and depending on them.

Special drugs are made by people who don’t follow rules, so they’re not always safe or the same strength.

Special drugs can be as addictive and dangerous as strong medicines that are used the wrong way. Just like any other problem where you can’t stop doing something, addiction to special drugs is a medical issue. People with certain signs may need help, like if they stop caring about work or school, change a lot in how they act or look, get very worried, or start losing or gaining weight.

You can find helpful information about special drugs and addiction on the website of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Read More: What Are Designer Drugs