What Are Designer Drugs?

Do you or someone you love have a problem with designer drugs? Unlike in the fashion world, the term "designer" when it comes to drugs is not a good thing. "Designer drugs" essentially means synthetic substances designed by pharmaceutical companies.

Some designer drugs are legal while other's are not. All designer drugs, regardless of their legal status, can be addictive.

If you or someone you love has a problem with designer drugs, know you are not alone. According to a 2014 study from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 21.5 million American adults over the age of 12, have battled with substance abuse.

Here is everything you need to know about designer drugs, from what they are, to how you can help someone who's addicted.

What Are Designer Drugs?

Let's get more into what designer drugs are exactly. Designer drugs are illegal drugs that are created synthetically in a lab, which means they are made to mimic the effects of existing drugs.

While street drug like cocaine and heroin are illegal, designer drugs can often technically be legal. This is because designer drugs have chemical structures that are altered or slightly different from street drugs.

Designer drugs also tend to be technically legal because they are usually essentially homemade. Most of these drugs are made from common household ingredients like cleaning products, which can contain harsh chemicals and poisons.

We saw our first cases of designer drugs in the United States in 2009. Since then, these drugs have gotten more and more popular each year especially with teenagers.

According to According to John Scherbenske from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the biggest user population of designer drugs are 12- to 17-year-olds. He thinks this is because of how one can easily get these drugs from a convenience store, smoke shop or online.

Some of the better-known and more commonly used designer drugs include Ecstasy, Ketamine, GHB, Rohypnol, LSD, Methamphetamine, and Spice. Let's break them down:


Ecstasy is also known as "E", "Molly" or "MDMA," is a common designer drug. This hallucinogen and stimulant affect the body similarly to the amphetamine class. Ecstasy was actually originally developed by a major pharmaceutical company.

This drug gained popularity in the 1980s and is popular among club and rave fans. Ecstasy often comes in brightly colored tablets with logos, in an attempt to In an attempt to win over the younger crowd. But, behind its fun candy-like appearance, is a drug that can contain harmful substances, like methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and rat poison.

Ecstacy is one of the most commonly used designer drugs. This is because people take this drug in an attempt to get the euphoric energy that most people want with a club drug. Ecstacy blinds out receptors on serotonin neurotransmitters, which are basically is what is responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness.

But beware of this club drug, there are serious side effects like panic attacks, chills, sweating, rapid heart rate, elevated body temperature, lack of appetite, and dehydration. While death rarely occurs, it is possible to get high blood pressure, seizures, and loss of consciousness.


Ketamine is also known as "Special K" is a drug that is classified as a "dissociative anesthetic." This drug is a kind of hallucinogen that distorts perceptions of sight and sound and produces feelings of detachment and dissociation from the environment and self.

Ketamine is often used on animals. At lower doses, this drug works as both an anti-depressant and analgesic as it prevents pain transmission in the spinal cord. This can cause a detached trance-like experience.

This is also another popular club drug specifically with dance or "rave" culture. Some take Ketamine because they think that the drug's dissociative feeling is linked to heightened spiritual awareness.

The effects of the drug feel like what you'd expect from drugs that are used to sedate you for surgery. Users have also reported feelings of being outside of their body or feeling like they're floating, dizzy or euphoric.

Because of its effect, Ketamine has also been used in cases of date rape because the victim often will have no memory of the event. There are serious side effects to ketamine including faster heart rate, hypertension, vomiting, amnesia, hallucinations, and respiratory problems.

GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyrate) & Rohypnol

GHB is actually considered to be safe to use to treat narcolepsy. This is because it works to slow down brain activity during sleep, and works on the dopamine system to create feelings of warmth and well-being.

Recreationally, it is used because it can invoke mild euphoria, relaxation, and pain mitigation. GHB is not known to be toxic, as it is converted to oxygen and carbon dioxide in a few hours and then secreted through perspiration. Which is why this drug is also used for date rape.

If an unwilling victim is given GHB, they can become drowsy and comfortable, which puts them in a situation where they can be easily taken advantage of. The drug's amnesiac qualities can leave the victim unsure and confused about what happened to him or her when they were intoxicated.

GHB side effects can include nausea, vomiting, depression, hallucinations, seizures, respiratory depression, loss of consciousness, hypotension, amnesia and rarely, coma. GHB also has the potential for addiction and may cause withdrawal symptoms upon cessation.

Like GHB, Rohypnol is frequently abused as a date rape drug, also partially due to its amnesiac properties. This drug is a central nervous system depressant, and it affects increase when combined with alcohol. Rohypnol can also be potentially fatal when mixed with other depressants.

Rohypnol is a potent benzodiazepine that may reduce anxiety, induce drowsiness, and relax muscles. When used improperly, it can cause paralysis, leaving a terrified victim so incapacitated they can only observe, and not resist what is happened to them.


LSD stands for Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, and it's not new to the world of drug abuse. The drug actually dates all the way back in the 1930s and is typically swallowed as a pill, but it can also be chewed through blotter paper, dabbed on the tongue from a vile, or ingested via sugar cubes. The high sensation experienced by LSD users can last up to 12 hours when a larger dose is ingested.

The LSD experience includes hallucinations, vivid colors and imagery, an elevated heart rate, extreme emotions, feeling disconnected from oneself, anxiety and/or panic attacks, muscular lethargy, trouble sleeping, fatigue, loss of appetite, perspiration, dry mouth, being in a confused state, shakiness, psychosis, and more.

While LSD isn't the most commonly abused drug these days, the drug hasn't lost its footing in the club scene. It's growing popularity with an even younger crowd as well. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that 1.1 percent of 8th graders and 3.7 percent of 12th graders reported lifetime use of the drug in 2014.

Mental illness is a huge factor for many who abuse this substance. As approximately 53 percent of LSD users are suffering from a serious mental health disorder. Some are self-medicating while others have no idea that they have mental health issues.


Methamphetamine is the great example of a designer drug as it was made in the basements and garage labs. Meth labs have become a hot topic in the news, as explosions and garage fires are common during the cooking process.

Meth rose in popularity in the 1990s, with instructions and recipes widely available on the Internet. Making this highly addictive and dangerous drug involves mixing together a variety of harsh chemicals, like as battery acid and drain cleaner, with over-the-counter cold medicine. Meth represents one of the worst drug problems of today.

Short time side effects of this drug include loss of appetite, increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, dilation of pupils, disturbed sleep patterns and nausea.

Other short-term side effects include bizarre, erratic, sometimes violent behavior, Hallucinations, hyperexcitability, irritability, Panic, and psychosis, convulsions, seizures and death from high doses.

Its long-term effects can be even worse like permanent damage to blood vessels of heart and brain, high blood pressure leading to heart attacks, strokes and even death. You can also get liver, kidney and lung damage, destruction of tissues in the nose if sniffed, respiratory (breathing) problems if smoked and damage to the brain similar to Alzheimer's disease, strokes, and epilepsy

Synthetic Marijuana or Spice

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, spice is the second most frequently used illegal drug among high school seniors after marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that, in 2012, male high school seniors were twice as likely as female students to use synthetic marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana or spice has risen in popularity, but it should be avoided as in most cases it's worse for the body than natural marijuana. Spice is often found in smoke shops or stores sold as products labeled as "Not for Human Consumption." But employees of these stores will still discretely encourage customers to smoke it.

There have been some cases where legislators catch wind of the dangerous drug, and then pull it from shelves. Until the maker finds a new blend that isn't prohibited by law, to replace it.

There's also K2, which is also a synthetic marijuana. This dangerous drug has put users wind up in emergency rooms. This reaction is not because of it's THC content, but due to the other synthetic chemicals combined with it to make a greater high.

Regardless of the intense sensations that synthetic marijuana can bring on, it's still widely available. This is because of it's relatively low cost to make and purchase. Users also like it because of the fact that it can't be detected on a drug test.

Synthetic marijuana, spice, and or K2 are all relatively dangerous drugs. The side effects can include sudden, extreme stints of hyperactivity, lethargy, unprovoked, and extremely angry outburst or physical aggression. Other users have also experienced heart palpitations, chest pains, muscle spasms, reduced or elevated blood pressure, headaches, panic attacks, nausea, feeling unusually sleepy and seizures.

While other spice users have also reported symptoms of paranoia, confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, delusion, altered perceptions, and depersonalization.

Seeking Help for Designer Drug Use

This first step to getting help is admitting you have a problem. And admitting or understanding you have a problem with designer drug use can be incredibly difficult. The realization can be even harder to grasp with designer drugs target audience: teenagers.

When you're a teenager, you've likely succumbed to peer pressure. So it might be hard to accept that what you and your friends do for fun on a Friday night could be ruining your life.

The signs of addiction depend on the type of designer drug abused, but there are some similarities across the board. If you think someone you know might have an addiction problem, you might notice, depression and irritability when not using, followed by an immediate improvement in mood when drugs are made available again.

You may also find them lying about or hiding consumption. They might skip work, school or other important responsibilities to get high. You may notice this person is also avoiding old friends and family to hang out alone or with a new crowd.

This person might also be losing interest in once-enjoyed activities. You may also see this person has changes in weight and eating habits, or problems with money, relationships or the law, even if it doesn't seem related to drug use.

Other overall side effects can include severe mood swings, depressions, agitation, tremors, sweating, violent behavior, psychosis, hallucinations, panic attacks. If you notice any of these side effects or behavior changes, it's time to look into an intervention and then treatment.

Help is out there, it's all about finding the right fit for your family and loved one in need. Be sure to do your research so you're educated on the drug they're using and can find the right treatment center to help them.

We're here to help. Check out our website to find tools and resources on addiction to designer drugs as well as a way to find a rehab center near you.