blister of pills in a blue tone
white powder on a plate

You may have heard of the term synthetic drugs. You might wonder what exactly that term means. Synthetic drugs, unlike natural drugs, are intoxicating substances that are manufactured to be chemically similar to other types of drugs. To put that in simple terms, these are drugs that are created or manufactured to be like other types of drugs. They are often much stronger than its natural or organic counterpart, which can make them incredibly dangerous.

Types of Synthetic Drugs

There are two main classes of synthetic drugs: cannabinoids and cathinones. Both of these drugs are manufactured to be similar to other substances. They became available on the retail market because they are easy to manufacture and technically, the Drug Enforcement Agency does not list these manufactured substances as illegal. The Drug Enforcement Agency has only been able to identify and outlaw a handful of these substances.

Unfortunately, these drugs can be found in legal retail outlets. These synthetic drugs might be labeled as, “herbal incense,” or, “potpourri.” To get around drug laws, the packages might be labeled as, “not for human consumption.” However, someone suffering from a substance use disorder may disregard that warning and consume the manufactured drug regardless of these labels.

What are Cannabinoids?

As a reminder, there are two main classes of synthetic drugs. Cannabinoids are one of those classes and its chemical composition is made to be similar to marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids are artificial mind-altering chemicals. They can be either dried, shredded plant materials to be smoked, or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled with devices like e-cigarettes. These products are also called herbal or liquid incense.

What about Cathinones?

While cannabinoids are created to be similar to marijuana, cathinones are made to be chemically similar to amphetamines. These substances are usually pure white or brown powders. They can have similar effects to substances such as cocaine or MDMA/ecstasy.

One of the most commonly known synthetic cathinones are bath salts. Bath salts were thought to be the cause of a series of cannibalistic attacks in 2012. Tragedy struck communities in Florida from Miami1 to Martin County. However, the evidence was inconclusive that bath salts were involved in these attacks.

But that does not mean the substance is not dangerous; the artificial versions of these substances can be much stronger and incredibly dangerous.

Bath salts are not the only type of manufactured substance that are considered cathinones.

Other types of cathinones include:

  • Spice
  • Mephedrone
  • Methylone
  • K2
  • Bath salts
  • Krokodil

You may be wondering, “What happens to a person when they consume these substances?” As aforementioned, manufactured substances are dangerous because they are created to be stronger and more addicting. Exploration of the side effects indicates what makes synthetic substances so dangerous.

Side Effects of Synthetic Drugs

There are many side effects of taking synthetic drugs and the consequences can be dire. The manufactured version of these substances are often far more potent than its natural or organic counterpart. People who consume synthetic drugs risk negative effects and even the possibility of death.

How Synthetic Cathinones Can Affect You

Scientists and researchers are still working to understand how synthetic cathinones affect the human brain. What we do know is that synthetic cathinones are chemically similar to drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, and MDMA.

Synthetic cathinones can cause the following side effects:

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased friendliness
  • Increased sex drive
  • Extreme agitation
  • Violent behavior

These drugs are dangerous and can negatively affect your health. Using these substances can cause raised heart rate, increased blood pressure, and chest pain. There have been cases involving the breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue and even kidney failure. The worst outcomes are often associated with substances that are consumed by snorting or with a needle injection. Intoxication from ingesting or consuming synthetic cathinones have resulted in death.

Are Synthetic Cathinones Addictive?

Synthetic cathinones can be highly addictive. There have been studies where rats will compulsively self-administer synthetic cathinones after being exposed to the substance. Human users have said that the substance can trigger an intense, uncontrollable urge to use the drug again.

Someone who is trying to quit using the substance may suffer from the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia or problems sleeping
  • Paranoia

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, our team of dedicated and knowledgeable professionals are here to help you on the path to recovery. At Windward Way Recovery, we understand how difficult the journey to a healthy, happy, sober life can be. The good news is that you do not have to do it alone; our empathetic and committed staff members are on call 24/7 to assist you.

If you are ready to make that first step, contact us by filling out this form or call us at (855) 491-7694. We are located in the Franklin, California community in the Midwest, but we also proudly serve patients from across the United States.

How Synthetic Cannabinoids Can Affect You

Now that we have covered the side effects of synthetic cathinones, we can further explore the impact synthetic cannabinoids on the body and mind.

Because the public’s opinion has changed on marijuana in recent years, one might assume synthetic cannabinoids are not dangerous because its chemical composition is similar to cannabis. However, that would be an incorrect assumption.

In fact, synthetic cannabinoids are often marketed as, “fake weed,” and consumers are falsely led to believe the products are a safe and legal alternative to the drug. These products are marketed to the consumer in colorful foil packages and plastic bottles.

For several years, synthetic cannabinoid substances have been accessible in drug paraphernalia shops, novelty stores, gas stations, and on the internet. Because the chemicals used in the substances have no medical benefit and the potential for abuse, authorities have made it illegal to sell, buy, or possess some of these chemicals. However, these companies and manufacturers can find loopholes by changing the chemical formulas in their product.

This easy access and the belief that synthetic cannabinoid products are harmless have contributed to a rise in use among young people. Another reason for the substance’s popularity is that standard drug tests formerly were unable to detect the chemicals found in these products.

Since synthetic cannabinoids are manufactured, the chemical composition they contain is often stronger and more dangerous than a natural strain of cannabis. Consuming synthetic cannabinoids can have dangerous side effects.

Side effects of synthetic cannabinoids include:

  • Agitation, aggression, anxiety, and paranoia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Tachycardia
  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Dilated pupils
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal ideation

How Will Synthetic Cannabinoids Affect the Brain?

The scientific studies of the effects of synthetic cannabinoids on the human brain have been limited. However, researchers do know that some chemical compounds bind more strongly than marijuana to the cell receptors affected by THC. This can result in the user experiencing much stronger effects, and the results can be unpredictable and dangerous.

Since the chemical composition of most synthetic cannabinoid products are unknown and may change to keep up with drug laws, these products are highly likely to have substances that cause dramatically different effects than one might expect.

People who have used synthetic cannabinoids have reported the following effects:

  • Elevated mood
  • Relaxation
  • Altered perception
  • Symptoms of psychosis
  • Delusional or disordered thinking

Psychotic effects from the substance include:

  • Extreme anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations

Health Effects of Synthetic Cannabinoids

Taking these manufactured substances can negatively affect your health. People who have used synthetic cannabinoids have been taken to the emergency room to manage the side effects.

They have reported the following side effects:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Violent behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts

Although synthetic cannabinoids might offer a relaxing high like marijuana does, there is a significant risk of experiencing psychosis when consuming this manufactured product. A user might experience an altered perception (which is not unusual with cannabis), but with much stronger paranoia, confusion, disordered thinking, and a detachment from reality.

Synthetic cannabis is more addictive than marijuana, which makes it more difficult to quit using.

Users who have tried to quit may have the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability

Synthetic marijuana also stays in your system for a longer time, and the long-term effects are still unknown.

One of the most troubling side effects of synthetic cannabis is, “spiceophrenia.” This is a type of hallucination that can mimic the symptoms of schizophrenia when a person uses the substance. This side effect is particularly threatening because the synthetic cannabis is not only harming the user’s mental and physical health, but there is a risk of harming themselves or others when intoxicated.

Who Is At Risk To Become Addicted to Synthetic Drugs?

While anyone who has substance use disorder or an addiction disorder can become addicted to synthetic drugs, the main demographic that uses these substances are teenagers. Teens between the ages of 12 to 17 use these drugs more than any other age group. Teenagers are at that age when many people first start, “experimenting,” with drugs, but the excessive use of this demographic could be due to the substances being technically legal and available.

Teenagers and young adults are also likely to use these substances because of the assumption they are safe. The marketing of these products can create a false sense of security, which can lead to devastating consequences.

Users often do not understand that synthetic marijuana can be 800 times more potent than its natural counterpart.

Teenagers and young adults are not the only demographic that is at risk of becoming addicted to synthetic drugs. Recovering addicts and convicted felons are also at-risk of becoming dependent on synthetic substances.

Convicted felons may become addicted while in prison. Synthetic drugs are currently a substantial problem in prisons because inmates know using these substances will not appear on a drug test. The accessibility also means synthetic marijuana is more likely to circulate in prisons. A convicted felon may also use the substance as a distraction from the emotional pain of being in prison.

Recovering addicts are especially vulnerable when it comes to synthetic drugs. People recovering from an addiction to drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, or cocaine might see the manufactured versions of these drugs as a safe alternative to the more, “dangerous,” substances they are in recovery from. However, they might be unaware that the potency of synthetic substances could actually be something much stronger than anything they used previously.

It is dangerous for recovering addicts to use synthetic drugs. This leaves a chance for a relapse to turn into another full-blown addiction. The good news is there are treatments that can assist those struggling with an addiction to synthetic substances.

Overdose and Rehabilitation for Synthetic Drug Use

Because of the high potency and unknown chemical compounds of synthetic drugs, using or consuming the substance is extremely dangerous and can lead to an overdose. If an overdose has occurred, immediate medical attention is necessary. If the person has stabilized after receiving medical treatment, there are comprehensive addiction treatment programs that can help. We have seen that individuals who use synthetic drugs might also use other substances or suffer from a co-occurring mental health issue. If this is occurring, our partial hospitalization addiction treatment program could be a good first step. We also recommend inpatient addiction treatment programs for co-occurring disorders, if a higher level of care is necessary for the individual.

Get the Care You Deserve and Live the Life You Were Meant To Have

If you or a loved one is struggling with synthetic drug use, you are not alone. At Windward Way Recovery, our dedicated staff are here to help you take the steps to find recovery and live a healthy and sober life.

Our treatment for synthetic drugs is highly individualized. While getting help is vital to overcoming synthetic drug use, there are several factors that will affect the likelihood of success during treatment. These include your willingness to accept treatment, motivation for seeking treatment, and prior treatment and relapse history.

If you or your loved one is ready to receive treatment, our committed substance abuse treatment specialists and clinical counselors can help you determine the best type of treatment for your needs.

If you’re ready to make that first step, contact us by filling out this form or call us at (855) 491-7694. We are located in the Franklin, California community in the Midwest, but we also proudly serve patients from across the United States.

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