The Use and Abuse of Designer Drugs

designer drugsNew drug-related issues with “synthetic” or “designer” drugs is emerging in emergency departments and the community at large.[1] Two of the main groups of designer drugs are synthetic cannabinoid products (SCPs) and synthetic cathinones (SCs).1 SCPs are commonly referred to as “spice, ” “incense, ” and “fake pot, ” while SCs are commonly known as “bath salts.”1 New brands of these drugs are continuously hitting the market, sold under a wide range of street and commercial names.1

Synthetic Cannabinoid Products

Synthetic cannabinoids are prayed on a variety of herbal or dried plant matter for the purpose of being smoked to achieve a high.1 Sold over the counter at gas stations, convenience stores, smoke shops, and head shops, users can also find them online.1 Often labeled “not for human consumption” and without the SCPs on the product labels suggest that marketing strategies are misrepresenting these products as “natural.”1

When SCPs are smoked, the produce the psychoactive effects that are similar to cannabis.1 The effects are not due to the ingredients listed on the product labels, but the addition of the SCPs.1 These products have become extremely popular amongst users as it gives them the effects of marijuana with ready availability and reliable urine toxicology testing.1

The prevalence of SCP use is unfortunately largely unknown.1 What is known is that SCPs are the most frequently used illicit drugs by high school seniors, with one of nine reporting having used them.1 However, users don’t always experience just a high—there are many adverse effects that have led to 11,406 emergency department visits in 2010.1

Users of SCPs become anxious and agitated, as well as confused, tired, and have difficulty thinking clearly.1 They may also have memory changes and problems.1 There have also been multiple reports connecting SCPs and suicide.1 Some experienced disorganized thinking and speech, paranoid thoughts, flat or inappropriate affect, delusions, and hallucinations.1 Physically, cardiovascular and GI effects are common, and acute kidney injury and seizures have been observed.1

Synthetic Cathinones

Bath salts are a white or brown crystalline powder, also sold in packages stating “not for human consumption.”1 Sometimes they are marketed as plant food or jewelry cleaner.1 However, they are none of those things—they are meant to be ingested for a high.1

Using bath salts produce toxic effects, as well as psychopathological symptoms.1 Unfortunately, information of the prevalence of bath salt use is even more limited than that on synthetic cannabinoids.1 SCs produce amphetamine- and cocaine-like effects.1 They are similar to amphetamines, methamphetamines, and MDMA in their physiological effects.1

Often taken orally, injected, or snorted, users often feel a sense of well-being with profound insight and introspection.1 They often hallucinate and go into psychosis when larger quantities are used.1 Users become agitated, aggressive, and have symptoms similar to mania.1 Their blood pressure increases, vision becomes blurred, they are dehydrated, nauseous, may vomit, and develop tachycardia.1

Diagnosis and Treatment

As there is usually no signature odor or look to a person using designer drugs, a diagnosis is usually made by clinical history and mental status.1 Using urine drug testing that do test for designer drugs may also be used.1

[1] Castellanos, D., & Junquera, P. (2013, November 12). “Designer Drug” Use and Abuse: Implications for Psychiatrists. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved November 14, 2013, from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/special-reports/designer-drug-use-and-abuse-implications-psychiatrists/page/0/1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We are the only facility in Florida owned and operated by an addiction psychiatrist involved in all treatment decisions. Learn more
Hello. Add your message here.