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Designer Drugs – Signs of Abuse, Withdrawal, Treatment

Designer drugs – or research drugs and synthetic drugs – are illegal substances that are created synthetically in a lab. They chemically resemble illicit drugs and are designed by altering the properties of a drug that comes from a plant, including marijuana, morphine, or cocaine, with the help of chemistry tools. Since they’re homemade substances, these designer drugs often contain common household ingredients such as harsh cleaning chemicals and poisons.

Designer drugs typically have a similar effect to the best-known drugs, although their chemical structures are different. Initially discovered through the research of, and experimentation upon, the structure and activity of existing psychoactive drugs, they are manufactured in hidden locations or in homemade labs. Most of the new designer drugs have psychedelic properties, while many are a combination of psychedelics and other stimulants such as amphetamines.


Types of Designer Drugs

Widely used all around the globe, designer drugs bypass police detection, are easier to circulate, offer a greater intoxicating effect than the original drug, and are most commonly found in night clubs. Furthermore, since they’re created illegally, there’s no way of knowing what exactly is inside and whether they’re more life-threatening than other drugs.

Some of the most commonly abused designer drugs today include:


A common street name for a substituted amphetamine drug known as MDMA. It is a stimulant drug that speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and body. It comes in a tablet form, although it can also come as a capsule, powder, or crystal. Ecstasies come in different colors and sizes, and are often imprinted with a picture. Furthermore, it is one of the most frequently-found drugs in night clubs since it causes a surge in euphoria, increases energy, and it triggers hormones that affect sexual arousal and trust.


One of the most mood-changing and potent chemicals that is manufactured from lysergic acid. It comes in crystals that are then converted to liquid for distribution. Manufacturers often add the drug to absorbent paper which gets divided into squares and can be decorated with designs. The “trip” usually lasts for 12 hours and is a serious disconnection from reality. LSD alters perception, thoughts, and feelings, and causes hallucinations that seem real.


A powerful aesthetic that stops pain and is used for operations on humans and animals. It can reduce sensations in the body and give a floating or detached feeling as if the mind and body have been separated. Ketamine can also change how people see and hear things, can cause hallucinations, confusion, agitation, panic attacks, as well as impairment in short and long term memory. It can be consumed in drinks, snorted, injected, or added to joints or cigarettes.


A tranquilizer with general properties similar to those of Valium. The drug is available as a white or green pill and is used in the treatment of insomnia. Addicts usually crush the pill and snort the powder, dissolve it in drinks, inject it, or sprinkle it on joints. Most common effects include sedation, reduced anxiety, as well as muscle relaxation. Rohypnol is also known as an aid for sexual assault due to the strong amnesia it produces, causing the victims to have limited or no recollection of the assault.


An addictive stimulant drug that is chemically similar to amphetamine. It is white, odorless, and bitter-tasting powder that people take by snorting it, smoking it, or injecting it. The drug at first produces a strong feeling of confidence, energy, and hyper-activeness, but then users start feeling angry, afraid, edgy, or overly excited.

Bath Salts

One of the newest drugs to hit the streets, bath salts are central nervous system stimulants. They have nothing to do with bathing, but are named bath salts since the crystals resemble Epsom salts. They can be ingested, snorted, or injected. Bath Salts increase reaction times, decrease tiredness, and also induce feelings of euphoria.


A street drug with origins in South Florida. A newer-version of bath salts, Flakka is typically made from a synthetic version of an amphetamine-like stimulant in the cathinone class called alpha-PVP. Cathinone is derived from the khat plant in the Middle East and Somalia. Made in large quantities in foreign labs, users take Flakka for its short feeling of euphoria, a heightened sense of awareness, stimulation, and energy.


The Effects of Designer Drugs

Depending on the type of drug, designer drugs can cause feelings of euphoria, exhilaration, wakefulness, decreased appetite, extreme relaxation, and amnesia. Unwanted effects include panic attacks, paranoia, aggressive behavior, and hallucinations. In the worst-case scenario, these drugs can cause coma and death.

Furthermore, designer drugs can be hundred times stronger than the drugs they are created to imitate and symptoms can also include uncontrollable tremors, impaired speech, drooling, paralysis, and brain damage. The main danger of designer drugs is that the ingredients are not standardized, regulated, or tested. Drug dealers always manage to find innovative ways to sell these drugs without legal restrictions or penalization by altering the ingredients.

Designer-Drugs (3)

Signs of Abuse

Designer drugs have similar signs of abuse as those of addiction to alcohol or street drugs. A person abusing designer drugs may show:

  • Decreased health. Addicts may feel agitated, paranoid, listless, and also aggressive. There might also be changes in hygiene.
  • Negative change in performance. The abuser might decline in performance at school or work.
  • Changes in appearance, including weight loss or gain.
  • Problems with money. They can steal money from family members.
  • Changes in behavior. Addicts can often isolate themselves from family and be defensive about drugs. They can also show signs of confusion and disorientation, as well as lose interest in former friends and activities.
  • Trouble sleeping: insomnia, restlessness, nightmares.
  • Trouble maintaining relationships.

The most common side effects include:

  • Mood changes
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Psychotic behavior
  • Hypothermia
  • Seizures
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Respiratory problems
  • Coma
  • Death



Designer drugs have various effects and the withdrawal symptoms depend on the specific drug. Since they’re manufactured in illegal labs and their ingredients vary over time, it is almost impossible to know what is inside or how can they affect the body. Some reported withdrawal symptoms include: anxiety, vomiting, nausea, racing heartbeat, as well as elevated blood pressure, hallucinations, tremors, and seizures.

However, there is no quality control or regulation regarding their production and distribution. Since they’re new to the market, there is not much testing or research performed on these drugs, and overdoses, side effects, and withdrawal symptoms are hard to calculate.

Another cause for concern are the unpredictable effects on brain function they’ll have when mixed with other medications and drugs.



Since designer drugs are newly developed and still evolving, medical personnel can never know for certain the exact chemical reactions they are treating. As a result, appropriate treatment can be delayed because the abuser cannot be specific about the drug they used.

The combination of the chemicals and materials used to make the drug can be different even though it can have the same packaging and same name. Patients are always carefully evaluated and assessed before the commencement of treatment.

The first step is always detoxification and when necessary, anti-psychotic medication can be administered. After a patient completes the medical detoxification process and is stable, they can then participate in a comprehensive rehabilitation process that includes relapse prevention education.

One way to stop the escalating abuse of these designer drugs are the education workshops and prevention efforts. Consequently, many states have already passed laws that restrict marketing, display, labeling and advertising of these substances.

For more information please call our Addiction Treatment Helpline at (844) 439-4765. This is a Free and completely confidential call. We are available 24/7. In many cases, your health insurance company will cover 100% of the treatment cost. So please call now.

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