How are Synthetic Drugs and Research Chemicals Abused?

In today’s interconnected world, where it is possible to purchase practically anything with the click of a button, the internet is full of all manner of synthetic chemicals that can get someone high. Unfortunately, the law is unable to keep up with the fluid nature of these drugs and the different types of chemicals used to produce them. Things like “jewelry cleaner,” “plant food,” and “research chemicals” are often sold online or in gas stations and convenience stores as a legal way to get high. But unfortunately, these synthetic drugs and chemicals can produce more than just euphoria. Synthetic drugs and research chemicals are often abused with dire consequences. For parents and loved ones, it’s crucial to know what these chemicals are, how to recognize them, and what help is available for those who abuse synthetic drugs and research chemicals.

What are synthetic drugs and research chemicals?

These types of substances are often sold online, in gas stations, or convenience stores. People who aren’t familiar with the drug culture may not understand how these potentially dangerous drugs can be sold mainly over-the-counter. Enterprising drug dealers and black-market chemists will label synthetic drugs and research chemicals as “not for human consumption.” By labeling them as such, manufacturers can avoid regulation from the FDA and other government authorities. Most synthetic drugs and research chemicals are made overseas and then shipped to the U.S. Many are untested and can have unpredictable effects that can be incredibly dangerous.

Synthetic drugs and research chemicals were first reported to the U.S. authorities in late 2008, when a batch of the substance Spice, or synthetic marijuana, was confiscated and analyzed in Ohio. Once the FDA or other authorities discover a dangerous synthetic drug or research chemical, the substance is then analyzed chemically and usually banned. Unfortunately, black market dealers and chemists are adept at slightly tweaking the drug’s chemical makeup. They can quickly make new synthetic drugs and then put them back on the market, and the FDA is unable to regulate the new chemicals.

Currently, there are over a hundred different types of synthetic drugs and research chemical compounds in existence, with slightly altered forms to escape detection from the DEA and other government regulatory bodies. In 2012, The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act was passed, which put many of the synthetic drugs into Schedule One classification. Schedule One drugs are substances that are abused and induce a high, that are dangerous, addictive, and have no medical purpose or value. In 2015, more than 500 synthetic drugs were identified. Some of the most common synthetic drugs and research chemicals that are abused today include both stimulant-type substances and synthetic cannabinoids.

Synthetic Drugs and Research Chemicals

K2 and Spice are synthetic or fake marijuana. They are also called Blaze, Bliss, Skunk, and Yucatan Fire. Both Spice and K2 are comprised of many different chemical compounds and thought to have a potency 100 times stronger than natural marijuana. Since Spice and K2 are so strong, they are more effective at binding to the brain’s natural cannabinoid receptors. The high produced when K2 or Spice are abused is similar to the high produced with plant-based marijuana, but these synthetic chemicals increase the effects of altered perception, hallucinations, and delusions.

Bath salts, or synthetic cathinones, are stimulant-like substances that often include chemical traces of methylone, mephedrone, and MDPV. Snorting one dose of bath salts can produce an effect similar to that experienced with cocaine, except much stronger. A bath salt high will provide increased focus and energy levels, as well as high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and increased body temperature.

DMT is a psychoactive drug that can produce hallucinations and an effect that is similar to that experienced with mescaline or LSD. DMT is also called Blue Mystic, Nexus, Foxy, and AMT. These synthetic drugs are usually found and abused in club and rave scenes for their trippy, hallucinogenic effects.

Molly is abused for similar reasons as DMT. The drug produces a powerful high, and can also alter a person’s mental, emotional, and physical perceptions. The drug distorts sensations and acts as a stimulant, increasing a person’s energy and focus. Unfortunately, most of the Molly that is sold on the black market barely contains MDMA, the active ingredient that users are looking to abuse. Instead, the drug is often cut with other dangerous and addictive drugs like meth or bath salts.

Flakka is sometimes called gravel, and it is similar to bath salts. The drug produces a stimulant and hallucinogenic effect.

Smiles are hallucinogenic synthetic chemicals that produce a high similar to that experienced in LSD abuse. Smiles are very powerful, and users only need a small amount to deliver a powerful high.

How do people abuse these substances?

Synthetic drugs or research chemicals are typically crushed and snorted. Molly usually comes in tablet form and is ingested orally. Snorting the drugs gives users a quicker, more potent high, but ingesting can cause the drugs to linger in the body for longer, producing a long-lasting high. Spice or K2 is smoked or vaped and then inhaled.

Why would someone abuse synthetic drugs or research chemicals?

Synthetic drugs and research chemicals come with particular risks, especially to young people. For young people, finding and purchasing synthetic drugs can be easier and less expensive than trying to obtain illicit substances or prescription drugs on the black market. These products tend to be cheap and easily accessible either online or in certain stores and headshops. Adults will also abuse these drugs for similar reasons.

Also, synthetic drugs and research chemicals tend to be far less expensive than other illicit drugs. People may turn to synthetic drugs to prevent withdrawal symptoms if they don’t have access to their usual drug of choice. In some cases, people will abuse synthetic drugs because they want to experiment, and falsely believe that since these substances are sold in stores, they are safer than black market drugs. But this is a mistake.

What are the dangers of abusing these substances?

Just because a mind-altering substance is sold in stores, doesn’t mean it is safe to use. Synthetic drugs are often more potent and powerful than the original drugs they are made to emulate. Synthetic drugs are also comprised of many different chemicals that haven’t been tested for human consumption. These drugs can have several adverse effects on users and also come with a risk of addiction. Every year, around 1000 people are hospitalized for synthetic and research chemical drug abuse, and dozens will die from their effects. Some of the most common and severe impacts of synthetic drug use include:

  • Heart arrhythmia issues
  • Problems with blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations and paranoia
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Violence
  • Hyperthermia and dehydration
  • Long-term cognitive impairment

Severe and long term abuse from synthetic drugs and research chemicals can also lead to heart failure and death. Artificial stimulants are also known for causing violent behavior in users, which can put them in danger of assault, homicide, or suicide.

What are the signs of abuse?

Many of the signs of synthetic drug abuse are similar to symptoms that are found in people who abuse illicit drugs, prescriptions, or alcohol. People who are addicted and abusing synthetic drugs or research chemicals will experience profound changes in mood and behavior. Users may become withdrawn and careless about their responsibilities. Changes in eating patterns, sleeping habits, and a loss of interest in their usual activities is a common symptom of drug abuse.

The way a person abuses these substances can also come with a range of signs. Snorting bath salts can cause someone to have a constant runny nose and sore throat. Smoking synthetic drugs can also leave behind residual smells and evidence. Synthetic drugs will also cause changes in a person’s appearance. They will have dilated or constricted pupils, or red, glassy eyes depending on what drugs they are abusing.

How can someone get help?

Since most of the chemical compounds that are in synthetic drugs are often unknown are challenging to identify, people who are addicted to these substances need a slightly different approach to treatment for addiction. Residential treatment programs are typically recommended for people who are addicted to synthetic drugs or research chemicals. Residential treatment programs are well-equipped to offer comprehensive, round-the-clock care to individuals while they withdraw and detox from synthetic substances. In some cases, the acute withdrawal side effects from certain synthetic drugs can cause suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Attending an inpatient rehab program is best for keeping patients safe from harm, with 24/7 access to mental health treatment.

Once the detox and withdrawal phases have exited the acute territory, behavioral therapy can be useful for helping patients understand their internal motivations for using synthetic drugs, and what steps they can take to avoid a relapse. As with any drug addiction treatment plan, plans must be customized and tailored to the individual patient’s medical needs and history.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to bath salts or other synthetic drugs, Mission Harbor Behavioral Health can help. Please contact the representatives at Mission Harbor today to explore your options for addiction treatment.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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