Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic drugs pose a serious threat in society. “Synthetic” means manmade, and that’s exactly what a synthetic drug is: something produced using chemicals rather than something occurring in nature. Both “natural” and synthetic drugs are dangerous and life-altering. Synthetic drugs have their own set of side effects and dangers that must be known.

There are many types of synthetic drugs. Some common ones include methamphetamine (or “meth” for short,) ecstasy, painkillers such as Oxycontin and Percoset, and a relatively new variety known as “bath salts.”

Meth is a white, crystalline substance that is smoked, snorted or injected directly into the bloodstream. It produces a feeling of happiness and confidence, along with a heightened level of energy. The high usually lasts from six to eight hours, but can last as long as twenty-four.

Meth is “cooked” by combining cough syrup with another chemical such as battery acid or drain cleaner and then heating it. The process releases toxic fumes which permeate surrounding walls, furniture and flooring, contaminating the building being used as a meth lab. This can affect the health of others living in the area. Meth labs are prone to explosions caused by the chemicals and heat, which poses yet another risk to those living nearby. Meth labs produce five or more pounds of chemical byproduct for every pound of meth created. This waste is often dumped in nearby lakes or rivers, contaminating the water supply.

Meth is highly addictive. The US government estimates there are at least 529,000 regular users of this drug, with a total of 13 million people who have used meth at some point in their life. Meth use leads to permanent damage to blood vessels, the heart, lungs, liver and other internal organs. It also leads to malnutrition, unhealthy weight loss, “meth mouth” (rotting teeth and gums) and brain damage, among many other side effects.

Another common synthetic drug is ecstasy. Ecstasy gets its name from the false sense of euphoria it gives to users. It was first created in the early 1900’s in a lab. It was called MDMA and was used in treating psychiatric disorders, because it made people feel uninhibited. In the 60’s it started to gain popularity as a party drug. Ecstasy was banned in the 1980’s because it was ruled that the dangers outweighed any perceived benefits.

The problem with ecstasy, along with other synthetic drugs, is that a user never really knows what they are getting when they pop a pill. Dealers often call something ecstasy when it actually contains other illegal drugs, such as LSD or heroin, or chemicals such as rat poison or dog de-wormer. “Pure” ecstasy is bad enough, but when combined with these other substances its effects become unpredictable and even more dangerous. People on ecstasy often cannot feel their own limits and push themselves to dangerous extremes. There have even been cases of users dancing themselves to death at a rave while under the influence of ecstasy.

Certain synthetic pain killers are addictive and prone to abuse. Two of these are Oxycontin and Percoset. Both drugs are powerful painkillers and are available with a prescription. They are usually prescribed following surgery or a serious accident. However, patients can develop a dependency, even when taking their prescriptions correctly. If they cannot obtain the drug from a doctor anymore, many turn to illegal sources. Oxycontin is used by drug addicts to replace or enhance heroin, since it acts in the body in a similar way. Like other synthetic drugs, Oxycontin and Percoset cause physical and mental damage when used improperly. Side effects include nausea, dizziness, unconsciousness, confusion and even death.

New Type of Drug Causing Age-Old Problems

A relative newcomer to the synthetic drug scene is a variety of drug called “bath salts.” Though they sound harmless, bath salts are nothing like Epsom salts or other substances usually used to enhance a bath. They are a class of drugs containing synthetic cathinones, including 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and mephedrone. However, since bath salts are often made illegally by street chemists, it is impossible to know exactly what they contain. Synthetic cathinones are now the second most popular drug for high school students. (The first is marijuana.)

Bath salts cause similar reactions in the body to amphetamines and ecstasy. Because they are less expensive and until recently were legal, they are the preferred drug of many users. Bath salts are often sold as jewelry cleaner, plant food, or other harmless-sounding products. Because makers label them as “not for human consumption,” their true purpose is hidden and hard to regulate. In recent years, laws have been introduced banning certain chemicals common to most bath salts. In this way, the government hopes to curb production, thereby reducing abuse of this dangerous type of drug.

Bath salts cause adverse side effects, including paranoia, panic attacks, and high blood pressure, among many others. In some cases, abuse of bath salts has been fatal.

Synthetic Drug Abuse – The Problem and the Solution

Drug abuse of any kind leads to degradation and ruin. Abuse of synthetic drugs is no exception. Some believe that because a synthetic drug is made in a lab by an “expert” or can be obtained with a prescription, it is somehow safe. The exact opposite is true. A synthetic drug can contain many other dangerous chemicals, as mentioned earlier. Consuming drain cleaner, rat poison or battery acid is clearly insane. Yet an addict could know that the potential exists to do just that and take the drug anyway. That’s the heart of addiction – knowing the consequences of drug use and being unable to resist, despite the risk of permanent damage or death.

An addict never thinks these things will happen to him. It is always “someone else” that is at risk. An addict cannot help but alienate their family and friends as their life becomes more and more focused on getting their next fix. Someone who abuses drugs is more prone to immoral or criminal behavior. A person on ecstasy, for example, has a heightened sense of touch. That, coupled with lowered inhibitions, can cause a previously moral person to behave in a promiscuous way, greatly increasing the chances of being infected with an STD.

An addict needs to maintain an ever-increasing consumption of drugs, seeking a high that can only be approached with more and more drugs taken more and more often. This costs money. An addict is less and less capable of holding down a regular job, while at the same time they are in need of more and more money. This combination often leads to a life of crime. An addict will do anything to feed their addiction, including stealing from family and friends or perfect strangers.

Synthetic drugs are just as addicting as any other drug. An addict will need the support of friends and family to break free from the vicious cycle of drug abuse. Withdrawal from synthetic drugs can be mentally and physically painful. If a loved one is addicted to meth, ecstasy, prescription painkillers, bath salts, or some other synthetic drug, find a reputable detoxification center that is designed to help an addict through the pains of withdrawal. If you can find one that also offers some form of life coaching to address the reasons the person turned to drugs in the first place, that is even better. Synthetic drug abuse is a real problem, but solutions are available and there is hope.


By Robert O. Newman II, ICDAC, ICPS, CIP