Updated on February 6, 2024
5 min read

Designer Drugs: Types, Effects, and Serious Risks

Key Takeaways

Designer Drugs Definition

Designer drugs are man-made drug compounds developed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs. Many designer drugs are a combination of several drugs.

Designer drugs are made to avoid classification as illegal. They are often designed to be undetectable on drug tests.

Most designer drugs try to imitate cocaine, ecstasy, and other stimulants.

Cannabinoids are designer drugs developed to mimic the effects of marijuana.

It’s possible to develop an addiction to designer drugs. It is also possible to overdose on them.

These unpredictable mixtures put users at risk of dangerous side effects, including overdose and death. 

One of the biggest risks associated with designer drugs is the fact that they are developed in secret. There's no way to know the ingredients or potency of a drug. 


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Are Designer Drugs Addictive?

Some designer drugs are addictive. It's hard to predict their addictiveness because of their unknown ingredients. 

These drugs are made in labs not subjected to control standards or governmental oversight. They tend to be radically different from batch to batch to avoid drug test detection.

Some of the designer drugs sold are not meant for human consumption. The chemical makeup of these club drugs is also different from one manufacturer to another.

In some cases, after the FDA bans an ingredient, manufacturers replace it with something else. This puts users in danger. It also makes it difficult to study the effects of the drugs because every batch is different.

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Symptoms of Designer Drug Addiction 

The symptoms of designer drug abuse and addiction include:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Tendency to isolate from loved ones
  • Defensive about drug use
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Changes in appearance or hygiene
  • Insomnia 
  • Restlessness
  • Decline in work or school performance
  • Taking risks to acquire the drug
  • Wanting to reduce or stop using the drug without success

Types of Designer Drugs & Their Effects

Drug enforcement agencies have identified more than 200 synthetic drug compounds and 90 synthetic marijuana compounds.

Some of the most commonly used designer drugs, according to the DEA, include:

Bath salts

These are synthetic stimulants that look like Epsom salt, plant food, or other chemicals.


This is a synthetic compound containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. This drug is often sprayed with psychoactive chemicals.


This is also called pink, pinky, or u4. It is a potent synthetic opioid sold in powder or pill form.


This goes by many different street names, including China Girl, poison, and dance fever.

It is also frequently mixed with cocaine, heroin, or meth. It’s inexpensive and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine.


Kratom is a psychoactive herb. This legal drug is unregulated by the federal government. It is available at health food stores, farmers’ markets, and gas stations throughout the United States.

Although manufacturers claim it offers health benefits, the FDA disputes this claim and warns against using the drug.

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What is the Newest Designer Drug?

In addition to the drugs listed above, new designer drugs hit the streets every day. Some of the most recent drugs in circulation include:


A drug originally developed for Soviet cosmonauts. This anti-anxiety nootropic is legal, but U.S. doctors cannot prescribe it.

It is also illegal for manufacturers to market any health benefits of the drug. The use of the drug skyrocketed in 2018, and some users died from it.


Also called G, fantasy, or liquid ecstasy. This drug is occasionally prescribed for treating narcolepsy. It causes drowsiness, hallucinations, excitement, and aggression. 


Also called alpha-PHP or zombie drug. This drug is chemically related to bath salts. It has dangerous side effects, including aggression and self-harm. Users are also at risk of developing kidney failure, increased body temperature, and tachycardia.

This drug was first introduced to the market in 2013 but has seen a resurgence in recent months. Many young people accidentally ingested flakka when they thought they were taking MDMA or cocaine.


Used primarily as a large animal sedative. It is similar to fentanyl but is much more potent. The lethal dose range for carfentanil in humans is unknown.

It is often used to adulterate heroin, fentanyl, and other drugs. This drug is also found mixed with Xanax, cocaine, Oxycontin, and MDMA.

Dangers of Using Designer Drugs

All substance abuse poses potential health risks. However, the use of designer drugs presents many risks. 

The Risk of the Unknown

The most serious concern associated with designer drugs is users cannot be sure what is in the drug. These drugs might be laced with other drugs or chemicals to increase their potency and/or reduce their cost. 

It’s very difficult to determine toxicity and the specific risks you face when taking a designer drug. Some designer drugs are manufactured to avoid detection. This makes it difficult for medical professionals to measure levels of intoxication. 

Additionally, users often mix these drugs with alcohol or other substances, worsening their risks. 

Designer drugs are known to reduce inhibitions and the ability to make rational decisions. As a result, users often engage in risky behavior. 

The most common dangerous side effects of designer drugs include:

  • Mood changes
  • Addiction
  • Psychotic behavior
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hyperthermia
  • Seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Overdose
  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory problems
  • Coma
  • Death

Withdrawal Symptoms

It’s difficult to predict the withdrawal symptoms of designer drugs because their ingredients vary so much.

The most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure

What Age Group Most Commonly Uses Designer Drugs?

More than half of illicit drug use occurs among people aged 12 to 25. The most prevalent use occurs among 18 to 20-year-olds.

These drugs are common among partygoers, so it makes sense that younger people have a higher use rate.

Treatment Options for Substance Abuse & Addiction

The most important step of recovery is getting help. Fortunately, there are plenty of options for substance abuse and addiction, including:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment plans are an effective and all-inclusive option for those struggling with addiction. You'll live in secure housing and have access to medical care 24/7.

Depending on your needs, you can choose a 30-, 60-, or 90-day program with daily therapies. They will also help you set up your aftercare once you complete the program.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

A partial hospitalization program (PHP) is also known as an intensive outpatient program (IOP). PHPs provide a similar level of care to an inpatient program, but with more freedom and independence for the patient.

Medical care, behavioral therapy, and support groups are included onsite. The main difference is in a PHP, patients go home to sleep. Services may include food and transportation for some patients.

These programs can be suitable for new patients as well as those who complete an inpatient program.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient treatment is a good option for those who have a high motivation to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities. They include therapy, education, and support in an environment that's flexible around the person's schedule.

Outpatient programs are a great place for new patients to start, or for people who have completed an inpatient or partial hospitalization program.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

There are some medicines that can help reduce the negative side effects of detox and withdrawal. Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions.

Disulfiram, acamprosate, morphine, and naltrexone are the most common medications used to treat substance use disorders (SUDs).

When combined with other evidence-based therapies, MAT can help you overcome your addiction, prevent relapse, and increase your chance of a full recovery.

Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Al-Anon, along with other groups are peer-led organizations that are dedicated to helping people with substance use disorders remain sober.

These groups can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

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Updated on February 6, 2024

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