Designer Drugs (Encyclopedia of Drugs and Addictive Substances)
- Shocking Ingredients
- Are There Any Medical Reasons for Taking This Substance?
- Effects on the Body
- Treatment for Habitual Users
- Designer Drug Lingo
What Kind of Drug Is It?
Designer drugs are illicit (unlawful) and dangerous substances made in illegal labs. It is against the law to make, possess, sell, or use them. The designer drugs discussed here include 2C-B (nexus), ecstasy (MDMA), GHB, ketamine, methamphetamine, and PCP (phencyclidine). (Separate entries on each of these drugs with more in-depth information are available in this encyclopedia.)
Designer drugs were deliberately created by underground chemists to get around the laws set forth in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970. The CSA called for the federal regulation of certain drugs. Under the terms of the act, all federally regulated substances must be categorized into one of five schedules. These schedules are based on a substance's medicinal value, possible harmfulness, and potential for abuse and addiction.
Schedule I is reserved for the most dangerous drugs that have no recognized medical use. 2C-B, ecstasy (MDMA), and GHB are all Schedule I drugs. Schedule II and Schedule III drugs have limited medical uses when prescribed by a physician, but the possibility of abuse and addiction among users remains a cause for concern. Methamphetamine and PCP are Schedule II drugs, and ketamine is a Schedule III drug.
Gary Henderson, a University of California professor, came up with the term "designer drug" back in the early 1980s. These designer drugs are synthesized, meaning that they are made in labs. As Lawrence Clayton explained in his book Designer Drugs, these synthetic substances "are made to mimic the feeling and the 'high' caused by other drugs." However, they "cost less than the drugs they are modeled after."
Amateur drug makers sought to create homemade drugs that would not qualify as controlled substances but would still appeal to
illegal drug users. With a slight change to the chemical structure of a controlled substance, a newly created designer drug would no longer be considered "controlled"t least not technically. For more than fifteen years after the passage of the CSA, more and more illegal labs sprang up. These labs were "where new drugs that would bypass the CSA could be made," explained Elizabeth Russell Connelly in Psychological Disorders Related to Designer Drugs.
In the middle and late 1980s, however, further laws were passed that made designer drugs illegal as well. The U.S. government added existing designer drugs to the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) list of controlled substances. In addition, the 1988 Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act cut down on the availability of some of the ingredients necessary to concoct designer drugs. "Yet," commented Connelly, "designer drugs continue to be manufactured and sold for profit."
The popularity of in Europe and the United States contributed significantly to the increase in designer drug use. Raves generally appeal to young audiences. The term "club drugs" was coined to describe the many drugs that are often used by ravegoers to heighten the party experience. It is important to note, however, that not all "club drugs" or "rave drugs" are designer drugs, although the terms are often used interchangeably.
What Is It Made Of?
Designer drugs are often made with common household substances by inexperienced drug makers. Connelly reported that "illegal labs have been found in remote mountain cabins and rural farms, as well as in single and multifamily homes in city and suburban neighborhoods. These operations can be moved fairly quickly to new locations, in order to avoid detection by police or federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents."
Although the ingredients in them are often quite ordinary, the illegal production of designer drugs is a dangerous business for both the producer and the user. Secret labs have been known to blow up during the drug-making process, and botched batches of drugs can be deadly when ingested. Myra Weatherly, writing in Ecstasy and Other Designer Drug Dangers, commented: "These imitation drugs mixed by '' can be much more potentPowerful. than the real thing. Not only are these drugs dangerous in themselves, but a goof in the labuch as overheating a substancean mean death."
The chemical compositions for the six drugs discussed in this entry are listed below.
- 2C-B: C2H8NO2Br
- ecstasy: C11H15NO2
- GHB: C4H3O3
- ketamine: C13H16C1NOHC1
- methamphetamine: C10H15N
- PCP: C17H25N
How Is It Taken?
2C-B, ecstasy, and methamphetamine are usually sold and distributed in tablets or capsules that are swallowed. Users have also been known to crush the tablets and snort these drugs. Methamphetamine addicts often liquefy the powdered form of the drug and inject the mixture directly into their veins.
GHB is usually sold and consumed as a liquid in small glass or plastic bottles (about 30 milliliters in size). This reportedly provides enough of the drug for three moderate doses. GHB can also be purchased in capsule form or as a powder packaged in a bag. Because it is both odorless and colorless, GHB often goes undetected when added to a drink. It has been used in cases of date rape.
When used by physicians or veterinarians as an , ketamine comes in liquid form and is packaged in small glass vials. Illicit drug users often inject the liquid into their veins, but some abusers dry out the substance by cooking it, then crush and snort it.
PCP is available in the form of tablets, capsules, liquid, and powder. In its base form, PCP is a white crystalline powder that is snorted, pressed into tablets, or mixed together with water or alcohol. The liquid form is often sprayed on leafy material such as oregano, mint, or marijuana and sold to users in the form of joints to be smoked. (Separate entries on alcohol and marijuana are included in this encyclopedia.)
Are There Any Medical Reasons for Taking This Substance?
The Schedule I drugs 2C-B, ecstasy, and GHB had no known medical uses for humans as of 2005.
Ketamine, a Schedule III drug, was approved for use as an anesthetic in animals and humans in 1970. About 90 percent of legally sold ketamine is intended for veterinary use.
Methamphetamine produced by legal drug companies is available with a doctor's prescription for the treatment of and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorderA disorder characterized by impulsive behavior, difficulty concentrating, and hyperactivity that interferes with social and academic functioning. (ADHD). It is categorized as a Schedule II stimulant.
PCP is also a Schedule II drug. At one time, it was given to surgical patients as an anesthetic. Because of disturbing psychological side effects, however, it is no longer used for that purpose. As of the early 2000s, PCP was being investigated for potential use in patients who have suffered a heart attack or a stroke.
"New designer drugs are being developed all the time," noted Clayton, as are new ways to market these drugs. According to "Pulse Check," a publication of the Executive Office of the President, the Internet is playing an increasingly large part in the sale of designer drugs. The "Pulse Check," report, which was published in 2004, states that "law enforcement is way behind dealers and users technologically, especially at the local and state levels."
Designer drug use seemed to explode between the 1990s and 2002. Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) statistics tell the story. According to DAWN, annual hospital emergency room visits associated with club and designer drug use jumped from a few hundred or less in 1995 to several thousand or more in 2002. Most statistics available on designer drug use are delayed by a year or two. As of 2005, however, reports showed that designer drug usage was going down. The 2004 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey and the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) both reported an overall decrease in users of drugs such as ecstasy and GHB.
Effects on the Body
"Every designer drug," noted Weatherly, "has the potential to kill the user." Strength and purity of dosages varies from batch to batch, and from dealer to dealer. So, a user who feels that a particular designer drug is "safe" based on prior use can never be sure what the next dose will be like. In addition, the long-term effects of these drugs on the body remain unknown. According to a 2005 report from "NIDA InfoFacts," however, "current science is showing changes to critical parts of the brain" from the use of ecstasy, GHB, and ketamine, among other drugs.
Small doses of 2C-B reportedly produce relaxation in the user, but larger doses may bring on . Recreational usershose who use the drug to get highay that 2C-B greatly heightens their reaction and sensitivity to music and enhances the enjoyment of dancing. At high doses, however, some users report seeing horrifying images, and others experience panic attacks. Such attacks are unexpected episodes of severe anxiety that can cause physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, and shaking.
2C-B is also associated with increased feelings of anger and paranoiaAbnormal feelings of suspicion and fear.. The mood-altering effects of the drug can last for days. Unpleasant physical side effects of 2C-B use include nausea, diarrhea, cramps, and gas.
Ecstasy probably has the highest name recognition among designer drugs. Known to many as the "hug drug," ecstasy lowers and encourages people to act on their impulses. Its use has been linked to casual sexual encounters, which can contribute to the spread of HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) and eventually AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
The side effects of ecstasy may include nausea, dizziness, confusion, and anxiety. The drug acts on the body's muscular system, causing muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, and rapid eye movement. "Ecstasy deaths are a fact of life," noted Decca Aitkenhead in the Independent. High doses of the drug can bring on
hyperthermia, a dangerously high increase in body temperature. This condition can damage internal organs such as the liver, kidneys, heart, and even the brain. Drug researchers have confirmed that ecstasy has the potential to cause permanent brain damage.
Because of high demand, ecstasy pills are frequently mixed with fillers and other active substances, most commonly amphetamines and caffeine. (Separate entries on these drugs are available in this encyclopedia.)
GHB was sold over-the-counter in the mid-1980s and used mainly by bodybuilders seeking to bulk up their muscles. The DEA later banned the drug. Recreational users report increased sociability, relaxation, and a positive mood while on GHB. People taking the substance often become talkative and giddy. They may become incoherent or hard to follow. Slurred speech is also common.
Because it is a depressant, GHB can bring on breathing difficulties, seizures, brain damage, and even comas in users who overdose. The drug becomes even more toxic when mixed with alcohol or other nervous system depressants such as benzodiazepinesA type of drug used to treat anxiety., painkillers, allergy medications, or sleeping pills. Combining even a low GHB dose with alcohol can trigger an overdose, leaving the user unconscious and barely breathing. Such effects have led to the use of GHB as a date rape drug.
The effects produced by ketamine are intense, but they do not last for long. This drug is often used as a booster to draw out the desired effects of other drugs. Because ketamine is an anesthetic, it produces significant effects when taken alone. Abusers of ketamine report immediate effects including numbness all over the body, altered vision, muffled hearing, and a floating sensation. The drug takes effect so quickly that users may collapse suddenly, injuring themselves in the process. After using the drug once, many people will never use it again, at least not knowingly. At higher doses, ketamine leads to hallucinations, the onset of a dreamy state, and so-called "out-of-body experiences." Some users have claimed they saw visions of angels after taking ketamine.
Combining ketamine with drugs such as alcohol or can create a life-threatening situation. (A separate entry on barbiturates is included in this encyclopedia.) Users mixing these drugs risk slowing their breathing and heart rates to dangerously low levels. This can starve the brain of oxygen, thus increasing the chances of permanent brain damage, coma, or death.
Methamphetamine is taken illicitly for its hallucinogenicA substance that brings on hallucinations, which alter the user's perception of reality. "feel-good" effects. Even small amounts of the drug are said to produce extreme alertness, increased energy, decreased appetite, and . Such effects are those generally sought by users.
Methamphetamine reduces users' inhibitions and increases their sensitivity to sound, light, and touch. Because it is a stimulant, which increases activity, this drug gives club-goers energy to dance well into the morning hours. Some users stay awake for two to three days while on a meth binge. People also report feeling especially witty, clever, and in control while under the influence of methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine users often want to extend the high brought on by the drug. The so-called "crash" that results when the effects wear off is quite unpleasant. Irritability, confusion, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping are common side effects.
Methamphetamine is highly addictive, and users who try to quit typically suffer from withdrawalThe process of gradually cutting back on the amount of a drug being taken until it is discontinued entirely; also the accompanying physiological effects of terminating use of an addictive drug. symptoms. These include severe depression, extreme anxiety, tiredness, tremors, convulsions, aggression, and intense drug cravings. Long-term abuse of methamphetamine may cause dangerously high blood pressure, , paranoia, and violent behavior that sets the stage for users to harm themselves or others.
PCP is another veterinary anesthetic used illicitly as a psychedelic drugThe ability to produce hallucinations or other altered mental states.. Individual responses to PCP at low and moderate doses are varied. Users generally feel detached and distant when they first take the drug, and later experience a surging sense of power and strength.
Some users report having bizarre hallucinationseeing people with enlarged or detached heads and limbsnd disturbing feelings of isolation and numbness. Because PCP users typically cannot feel pain when under the influence of the drug, they may engage in acts of self-mutilation or violence. Self-mutilation involves deliberately cutting or injuring oneself in some way.
At high doses, PCP prompts a drop in blood pressure, pulse rate, and breathing. These reactions may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, uncontrolled eye movement, drooling, loss of balance, seizures, coma, and death. Taking PCP in combination with depressants such as alcohol or benzodiazepines increases the risk of overdose.
Reactions with Other Drugs or Substances
Designer drugs are rarely taken alone. This complicates matters for paramedics, emergency room doctors, and nurses in cases of overdose. If medical personnel cannot pinpoint which drugs the user has taken, it makes treatment of the overdosing patient much more difficult.
Treatment for Habitual Users
Drug addiction is curable. Common forms of treatment include individual therapy, group therapy, day-long outpatient programs, and short-term inpatient programs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) confirms that the most successful drug rehabilitation programs are those that tailor treatment to the user. Connelly pointed out that "individual therapy may uncover issues of poor self-esteem, depression, severe family problems, and/or preexisting psychological disorders" that are at the root of an individual's drug use. The primary goals of therapy include helping the patient to quit drugs, improving the patient's coping abilities and outlook on life, and reducing the risk of relapse.
Frequent drug users often find that their habit damages their relationships with family members and friends who do not use drugs. School-related and work-related performance may also suffer as physical or on drugs progresses. Repeated use of certain drugs brings about dramatic changes in both the structure and function of the brain. Methamphetamine use leads to extreme dependence that can quickly turn a recreational user into an addict. Many designer drugs (ecstasy, GHB, ketamine, and PCP) have the potential to produce hallucinations that can trigger traumatic emotional episodes in some users.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, the manufacture, distribution, and possession of designer drugs carries the same penalties as the manufacture, distribution, and possession of controlled substances.
Anyone who possesses, manufactures, or sells a Schedule I drug risks hefty fines and a prison sentence of twenty years. Repeat offenders receive even harsher punishment. If the drug manufactured or sold by someone results in a user's death, the drug maker and dealer risk life in prison. 2C-B, ecstasy, and GHB are considered Schedule I drugs.
Involvement with Schedule II and Schedule III drugs is also illegal and can result in jail terms and thousands of dollars in fines. The designer drugs methamphetamine and PCP are Schedule II drugs. Ketamine is a Schedule III drug.
For More Information
Clayton, Lawrence. Designer Drugs. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1998.
Connelly, Elizabeth Russell. Psychological Disorders Related to Designer Drugs. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House, 2000.
Weatherly, Myra. Ecstasy and Other Designer Drug Dangers. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 2000.
Aitkenhead, Decca. "Independent Decade: Smiling Face of the Chemical Generation, Rave Culture." Independent (October 7, 1996): p. 12.
"2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/nhsda.htm (accessed June 30, 2005).
"Controlled Substances Act." U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/agency/csa.htm (accessed June 30, 2005).
DAWN: Drug Abuse Warning Network. (accessed June 30, 2005).
"GHB." Parents. The Anti-Drug. http://www.theantidrug.com/drug_info/drug_info_ghb.asp (accessed June 30, 2005).
"NIDA InfoFacts: Club Drugs." National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://www.drugabuse.gov/Infofax/Clubdrugs.html (accessed June 30, 2005).
"Pulse Check: Drug Markets and Chronic Users in 25 of America's Largest Cities." Executive Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy. http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/drugfact/p... (accessed June 30, 2005).
See also: 2C-B; Ecstasy (MDMA); GHB; Ketamine; Methamphetamine; PCP (Phencyclidine)
Designer Drugs (Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol, and Addictive Behavior)
Designer drugs are synthesized chemical analogues of known, dangerous drugs; they are designed to produce pharmacological effects similar to the drugs they mimic. In the pharmaceutical industry, the development of new drugs often utilizes principles of basic chemistry, so that the structure of a drug molecule may be slightly altered to change its pharmacological activity. For therapeutic purposes, these strategies have had a long and successful history; for medical pharmaceutics, many useful new drugs or modifications of older drugs have resulted in improved health care. The principle of structure-activity relationships has been applied to many medically approved drugs in the marketplace, especially in the search for painkillersonaddicting opioid analgesics.
The clandestine production of new street drugs is, however, intended to avoid federal regulation and control. This practice can often result in the appearance of unknown substances, with wide-ranging degrees of purity, which have the potential to cause dangerous toxicity and serious health consequences for the unwitting drug user (the quality of personnel involved in clandestine drug synthesis can range from cookbook amateurs to highly skilled chemists). The most publicized case regarding the tragic consequences associated with the manufacture and use of designer drugs on the street involves MPTP (1-methyl, 4-phenyl, 1, 2, 3, 6-tetra-hydropyridine), a substance that was later found to cause a Parkinsonian syndrome in humans.
A controlled substance that has served as a template for the design of new look-alike OPIOID drugs is MEPERIDINE (Demerol). A slight change in its chemical structure yields the drug known as MPPP (1-methyl-4-propionoxy-4-phenylpyridine), a meperidine look-alike drug, which is known on the streets as synthetic heroin. In California in 1982, four young drug abusers developed Parkinsonian symptoms after the illicit intravenous use of street HEROIN. The analysis of their remaining drug samples revealed the presence of both MPPP and MPTP. The dealer involved in this illicit synthesis and sale of MPPP was a bad chemist, since MPTP represents a side product formed through the inadequate control of the temperature and/or acidity of the chemical reaction.
Another opioid that has resulted in serious health hazards on the street is fentanyl (Sublimaze), a potent and extremely fast-acting NAR-COTIC ANALGESIC (painkiller) with a high ABUSE LIABILITY. This drug has also served as a template for many look-alike drugs that come out of clandestine chemical laboratories. Very slight modifications in the chemical structure of fentanyl can result in analogues such as para-flouro-, 3-methyl-, or alpha-methyl-fentanylith, respectively relative potencies 100,900, and 1,100 times that of MORPHINE. During the 1980s, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has reported a steady increase in deaths from drug overdoses associated with fentanyl-like designer drugs. Not every "de-signer" drug is actually thought up by chemists in illegal labs; some were actually synthesized for legitimate medical uses but were never marketed. HALLUCINOGENIC drugs, such as LSD or MESCALINE, rarely cause deathxcept as ACCI-DENTS related to drug-induced mental aberrations. Adverse reactions to typical hallucinogens are usually treated by support, reassurance, and a quiet environment. Hallucinogenic designer drugs, however, include such substituted AMPHETAMINE ("speed") analogues as methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or "Ecstasy"), and methylenedioxyethamphetamine (MDEA or "Eve"). Both acute and chronic toxicity have been reported following the administration of these drugs. Acute toxicity is usually manifested as restlessness, agitation, sweating, high blood pressure, tachycardia,
The widespread illicit manufacture and use of designer drugs with unknown chronic toxicity could result in millions of people experimenting with the drug before the toxic effect was recognized; this could potentially produce an epidemic of neurodegenerative disorders.
(SEE ALSO: Complications; Controlled Substances Act of 1970; MDMA; MPTP)
BARNETT, G., & RAPAKA, R. S. (1989). Designer drugs: An overview. In K. K. Redda, C. A. Walker, & G. Barnett (Eds.), Cocaine, marijuana, designer drugs: Chemistry, pharmacology, and behavior (pp. 163-174). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
DOWLING, G. P., MC DONOUGH, E. T., III. & BOST, R.O. (1987). "Eve" and "ecstasy": A report of five deaths associated with the use of MDEA and MDMA. Journal of the American Medical Association, 257, 1615.
NICHOLS, D. E. (1989). Substituted amphetamine controlled substance analogues. In K. K. Redda, C. A. Walker, & G. Barnett (Eds.), Cocaine, marijuana, designer drugs: Chemistry, pharmacology, and behavior (pp. 175-185). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
NICK E. GOEDERS