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What Are Designer Drugs?

by Will Long

December 20, 2021
what are designer drugs?

Designer drugs are substances based off of parent drugs that are illegal or controlled substances, usually made to bypass rules on the legality of the parent drug or to change the effects the parent drug has on the user. Some designer drugs are slightly modified analogues of the parent drug, made by clandestine chemists sometimes just to see what the subjective effects will be. Some notable examples of creating novel designer drugs are the Shulgins, who made potentially hundreds of different types of psychedelics before most people had heard of them, and Owsley Stanley, one of the most notorious manufacturers of LSD and LSD analogues.

Some notable designer drugs are major illicit substances like MDMA, a modified version of amphetamine. MDMA is explicitly illegal, but not all designer drugs are black market goods. Due to their tenuous legal status, many are grey market goods that exist in a state of legal limbo depending on the stated or intended purpose of possessing or manufacturing. Research chemicals are a good example of substances that fall in this grey area as drugs that are both illegal to possess for recreational purposes, but legal to possess for research purposes.

Mephedrone, cathinones, and synthetic cannabinoids are likely the next great frontier in black market drug manufacturing and selling. Many novel psychoactive substances on the balck market now are small tweaks of drugs that have been around since the 2000s and produce slightly different subjective effects somewhere between cocaine and ecstasy.

Some of the most enlightening educational sources for learning more about the chemistry of designer drugs are the books PiHKAL and TiHKAL by the Shulgins. Despite also telling of their odyssey through trying many different substances in order to write about and study the subjective effects (any appropriately self-reflective individual can gather that most of the “studying” was done under the pretence of finding new ways to get high), the data Alexander Shulgin collected on the psychopharmacology and chemistry of substituted phenethylamines and substituted tryptamines are invaluable to both laypeople and legitimate chemists alike.

Have you taken a designer drug? Here are some of the most common ones out on the black market.

  1. Ecstasy: Ecstasy, a commonly used name for MDMA, is a very widespread designer drug. Made in clandestine laboratories and similar to LSD due to being a mild psychedelic, ecstasy is primarily used in club environments to heighten the sensations of the music and people-packed environment.
  2. LSD: LSD is the original psychedelic hallucinogen that all other psychedelics are measured by. First popularized in the 1960s, LSD became very popular with those who went to many concerts and wanted to heighten the experience. LSD inspired tons of music and art at the time, but it became illegal towards the end of the decade as the Summer of Love wound down.
  3. GHB: GHB, a euphoric relaxant, is yet another drug used in clubs. Some argue it was used as a date rape drug, but there’s not much evidence that it was. The drug was once used as a workout growth supplement, but evidence it worked was slim and therefore fell out of favor. GHB can be easy to overdose on and it has a high drug interaction rate.

The vast majority of designer drugs suffer from a severe lack of clinical data on their effects, meaning anyone who takes a new drug might unwittingly put themselves at risk for fatal effects. If you are struggling with the use of research chemicals and designer drugs, please reach out to us at Landmark Recovery at 888-448-0302 to learn how we can help you unlock your potential once again and get your life back on track.

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About the Author

Will Long

Will Long

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Long has been a writer for Landmark Recovery since 2021. He specializes in research and writing about substance abuse from a scientific and social perspective. Unearthing information from underexplored, far-flung corners of the Internet, Long’s passion is finding emerging trends in substance use and treatment that the public should know about.