Spot the Signs of Designer Drug Abuse

You may have heard of so-called “designer drugs,” synthetic compounds made to mimic the effects of other drugs. They are taking over the lives of young adults and teenagers in America and often have fatal effects on the brain and body. But what are designer drugs anyway? And why do they hold such appeal?

What Are Some Designer Drugs?


In short, designer drugs are synthetic chemical concoctions that are considered a “fashionable” alternative to illegal drugs. While drugs like Ecstasy, LSD, and PCP are included in the category, there are other lesser-known designer drugs on the market, including those known as “bath salts,” “fake weed,” or “smiles.”

Chemical and Engineering News reported that in 2011 U.S. poison centers responded to over 13,000 calls about bath salts and synthetic marijuana. The number went up dramatically from around 3,000 in 2010. While they may have been available in convenient stores or head shops, these drugs are definitely illegal and considered Schedule I drugs by the Controlled Substances Act.

Let’s look at some of these more obscure designer drugs a little bit more in depth. Their use has been creeping up nationwide yet little is known about them:

  • Bath salts. Not only do bath salts have a dangerous addiction potential, they can be fatal. Made with either mephedrone or methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), bath salts limit the reuptake of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter in the brain that helps control rewards and emotions. It acts as both a stimulant and psychoactive drug, causing people to experience hallucinations, extreme panic, and paranoia. Bath salts are particularly dangerous as well because they can cause hyperthermia, an overheating of the body, and lack of sleep.
  • “Smiles.” The drug called “smiles” is a hallucinogen and Schedule I drug that has psychedelic effects on the body. It is consider a 2C-1, which comes from the 2C family of drugs that have psychedelic properties, according to a report on Fox News. Sold in either a powder or tablet form, “smiles” is said to cause auditory and visual hallucinations, as well as giddiness and relaxation. It also causes an erratic or irregular heartbeat and is related to amphetamines.
  • Synthetic marijuana. Known as K2, Spice, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, and a litany of other monikers, synthetic marijuana is a chemically altered mix of plant leaves and stems. It’s sprayed with chemical compounds (some of which are found in fertilizer) that mimics the effects of the active ingredient THC found in marijuana. Frequently synthetic weed has much higher doses of THC than marijuana itself does, making it highly toxic. It causes anxiety, panic attacks, hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, and tremors or seizures.

What Are the Signs of Designer Drug Use?


It may be hard to determine the effects of designer drug use as opposed to other illegal substances. Generally, because synthetic drugs are designed to produce the same effects as their counterparts, the signs of addiction or abuse are largely the same. Here are some things to look for if you suspect someone is abusing designer drugs:

  • Changes in appetite; loss/gain of weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns; insomnia, restlessness
  • Constant need for money; unexplained loss of money; borrowing money from friends/family
  • Sudden drop in grades at school or decline in work performance
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings; agitation or irritability
  • Trouble maintaining relationships
  • Appearance of looking “high”

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Getting Treatment for Designer Drug Abuse


The staff at Alta Mira is caring, compassionate and, above all, dedicated to your well-being. We have counseling and treatment experts on site to talk about your needs and develop a treatment plan that best matches your lifestyle. If you need help for drug abuse or if you have reason to believe someone you know or love is addicted to drugs, call the professionals at Alta Mira today.