Synthetic Drug Use: Effects, Addiction & Treatment

Synthetic drugs, sometimes called “designer drugs” or new psychoactive substances (NPS), are a growing public health concern. Because they are largely unregulated, these mind-altering substances can contain unpredictable, toxic ingredients that pose serious risks to a person’s health and well-being.

Read on to learn more about the risks and dangers of using synthetic drugs and how to get help for synthetic drug addiction at Oxford Treatment Center.

What Are Synthetic Drugs?

Synthetic drugs, sometimes called “designer drugs” or new psychoactive substances (NPS), are intoxicating substances manufactured to “copy” or mimic the effects of other controlled substances. They have no legitimate medical uses and are often marketed as cheap substitutes for the real thing.

There are two primary classes of synthetic drugs: cannabinoids, which are chemically similar to marijuana, and cathinones, which are chemically similar to amphetamines.

Synthetic cannabis is made by spraying a chemical substance onto plant material, which is then consumed in various forms, while cathinones are most often ingested like other amphetamines, in pill form.

The first shipment of synthetic cannabis was identified in December 2008, but by 2012, the DEA reported 51 separate synthetic cannabinoids and 31 new synthetic cathinones being sold in retail stores. There were an additional 76 unspecified synthetic drugs in stores in 2012 alone.

These drugs find their way into stores and the black market because they are inexpensive, easy to make, and generally legal to sell (at least temporarily, until laws catch up to the latest formulation).

While some synthetic drugs are sold illicitly, others are often found in legal retail outlets, like head shops, labeled as “herbal incense” or “potpourri” and “not for human consumption,” in an effort to circumvent drug laws.

Because synthetic drugs are so potent, and often mixed with unknown chemical compounds, they are extremely dangerous and can cause overdose very quickly.

An overdose is a medical emergency. If you think you or someone else is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. 

Common Types of Synthetic Drugs

Law enforcement officials have encountered hundreds of different types of synthetic drugs, with new substances continuously emerging on the market.

The most common synthetic drugs include:

  • Spice/K2.
  • Bath salts (MDPV).
  • Flakka (gravel).
  • Krokodil.
  • Synthetic phenethylamines (N-bomb, smiles).

Although government agencies work to outlaw these new chemical compounds, they can’t keep up with the constant reformulations. As soon as one substance is made illegal, manufacturers alter the composition slightly so the new substance is technically legal.

In 2012, the Obama Administration signed into law a bill that outlawed 26 compounds permanently, adding them to the list of illegal, Schedule I substances. While this law has been adjusted for new compounds several times, it’s tough for the law to stay ahead of manufacturers on the issue.

Synthetic Cannabinoid Misuse

While many people who abuse marijuana smoke the drug, vaporize it with an e-cigarette or vaporizer, or ingest it cooked into food like brownies or lollipops, synthetic cannabis is slightly different. These products are marketed in brightly colored packaging as incense, which the user can then ingest in nearly any form.

Some people who abuse synthetic cannabis mix the drug with marijuana, while others brew the drug as a tea-like drink. There are some synthetic cannabis products sold in an oil form, marked as “potpourri,” which can be put into an e-cigarette or vaporizer and ingested in steam.

Although synthetic marijuana can offer a relaxing, meditative high like marijuana does, there is a much stronger trend toward dangerous psychosis in this manufactured product.

Individual users report altered perception and hallucinations, which is not unusual with marijuana, but with much stronger paranoia, anxiety, confusion, disordered thinking, and detachment from reality.

Other side effects of synthetic cannabinoids can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Tremors.
  • Tachycardia.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Seizures.
  • Suicidal ideation.

Synthetic cannabis is addictive, even more so than marijuana, although signs of addiction are little understood. People who abuse synthetic cannabis report withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it, including nausea, depression, fatigue, irritability, and headaches.

Synthetic marijuana can be stored in the body for long periods of time, in a similar way to marijuana metabolites, so the long-term effects are yet unknown.

One of the most terrible side effects of synthetic cannabis use is “spiceophrenia,” a type of drug-induced hallucination and delusion similar to schizophrenia.

Synthetic Cathinone Misuse

The word cathinone derives from a chemical compound found in the khat plant, which is grown in East Africa. Residents of the area chew khat leaves for their mild stimulant properties.

However, in greater concentrations and when synthetically manufactured in a lab, cathinones can be as dangerous as other amphetamines, including cocaine and crystal meth.

Synthetic cathinones can sometimes be found in retail stores like synthetic cannabis, but they are not marketed as obscurely as synthetic marijuana is. These drugs are sold more often in club settings as a replacement for Molly (aka ecstasy, MDMA) or sold as Molly under false pretenses.

They are also sold as a cheaper replacement for cocaine or meth. When found in retail stores, synthetic cathinones may be labeled as “plant food,” “bath salts,” “jewelry cleaner,” or “phone screen cleaner.” These drugs can be snorted, injected, smoked, or eaten.

Potential adverse effects from synthetic cathinones include:

  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Chest pain.
  • Paranoia.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Increased sociability or friendliness.
  • Increased sex drive.
  • Panic attacks or anxiety.
  • Delirium, agitation, or violent behavior.

Delirium from synthetic cathinones may also be accompanied by dehydration, muscle breakdown, and kidney failure.

Use of synthetic cathinones may lead to a fatal overdose. Call 911 right away, if you think you or someone else is overdosing. 

Synthetic cathinones can be addictive. People who use them regularly report symptoms of withdrawal, such as depression, anxiety, sleep problems, tremors, and paranoia.

Who Abuses Synthetic Drugs?

Use and misuse of synthetic drugs is particularly common among teens and young adults. The 12–17 age group tends to abuse these drugs more than any other age group—in part because, as research suggests, this is the age when many people begin “experimenting” with drugs.

Abuse in this demographic is also due in part to synthetic drugs being technically legal and easy to find in convenience stores, smoke shops, head shops, and online.

During 2012, about 11% of high school seniors reported that they had used synthetic marijuana at some point in the past year. In 2010, there were 11,406 emergency room visits related to synthetic marijuana, and 75% of those cases involved people between 12 and 29 years old.

A 2014 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that synthetic cannabis is the third most abused drug among 8th and 12th graders.

Teenagers and young adults assume that synthetic drugs are safe because they are not technically illegal. This false sense of safety can lead to devastating effects.

Treatment for Synthetic Drug Misuse in Mississippi

Professional addiction treatment can help people struggling with synthetic drug misuse begin the road to recovery.

Oftentimes, individuals who use synthetic drugs also use other substances or suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders, which can make diagnosis and treatment even more complex.

At Oxford Treatment Center, we offer several different types of addiction treatment, specialize in the treatment of co-occurring disorders, and tailor our treatment approach to meet the individual needs of each patient.

Inpatient rehab, also known as residential treatment, includes safe housing, medical attention, and 24-hour structured care, as well as a range of evidence-based therapies. Outpatient treatment involves many of the same therapies used in inpatient treatment, but patients are not required to live on-site.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and ready to start the rehab admissions process, call us at . Our admissions navigators are available around the clock to answer your questions about how to pay for addiction treatment and can help you confirm your drug rehab insurance coverage.

Don’t let the devastating side effects of addiction go on for another day. Our Mississippi drug rehab center is ready to help you get the treatment you need today.

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