What Are Designer Drugs?

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What are designer drugs? Designer drugs, also known as synthetic drugs, are engineered by modifying or imitating segments of substances, resulting in distinct chemical compositions that aim to replicate the effects of drugs like LSD, amphetamines, molly, marijuana, and ketamine.

Numerous designer drugs emerge from unlicensed laboratories. The chemical structure of controlled substances is manipulated to create comparable yet unregulated alternatives. Unlike legally manufactured drugs, these designer substances lack proper oversight. Their composition and effects can vary significantly between batches, leaving people who use these drugs uncertain about their content.

People often mistakenly believe that they are purchasing legal substances due to their origins in controlled compounds. This allure is especially prevalent among younger adults who sometimes refer to them as legal highs, often attracted by the ambiguity surrounding their legal status. Commonly found at bars, nightclubs, and concerts, these substances are also known as club drugs.

Designer drugs fall into three broad categories: cannabinoids, cathinones, and opioids – more on these different types of synthetic drugs below.

The Dangers of Designer Drugs

Designer drugs, created to mimic the effects of controlled substances, pose significant dangers to those who use them. These dangers stem from the unpredictable nature of their composition, effects, and potential side effects. Here are some key risks associated with designer drug use:

  • Unknown composition: Designer drugs are produced in clandestine labs, and their chemical makeup can vary widely between batches. This means that there is no guarantee of the ingredients, and can lead to unexpected and potentially harmful reactions.
  • Health risks: Due to the lack of regulation and quality control, designer drugs are associated with serious health risks. Individuals using these substances may experience adverse reactions, including severe anxiety, agitation, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and even life-threatening conditions like seizures and heart attacks.
  • Unpredictable effects: Designer drugs effects can be highly unpredictable. Individuals might anticipate replicating the experiences of controlled substances, but the actual effects can differ significantly, leading to disappointment or, worse, severe adverse reactions.
  • Addiction and dependence: Many designer drugs are developed to trigger the brain’s reward system, potentially leading to addiction and dependence. The frequent use of these substances can create a cycle of seeking more intense experiences and struggling with withdrawal symptoms.
  • Long-term consequences: Limited research on the long-term effects of designer drugs makes it challenging to assess their potential impact on physical and mental health over time. Some substances may have lasting effects on brain function and contribute to mental health disorders.
  • Legal and social complications: Despite misconceptions about their legality, designer drugs are often controlled substances. Using or possessing these substances can lead to legal repercussions, including arrests and criminal charges. Additionally, their use in social settings like clubs or parties can expose individuals to unsafe environments.
  • False sense of safety: Some people might believe that because these drugs are designed to mimic controlled substances, they are somehow safer or less harmful. However, the lack of regulation means that the risks associated with designer drugs can be just as severe, if not more so, than those of their illegal counterparts.
woman at sunset representing the question what are designer drugs

Designer Drugs List

Designer drugs encompass a wide range of substances that are chemically engineered to mimic the effects of controlled substances. According to the DEA (United States Drug Enforcement Administration), there are seven distinct types of designer drugs. Due to the constantly evolving nature of these substances and the illegitimate labs that produce them, the following list of designer drugs is not exhaustive and is subject to change. Here are some examples of designer drugs that have emerged over time:

1) Synthetic cannabinoids

These substances are designed to replicate the effects of marijuana. Examples include JWH-018, AB-FUBINACA, and UR-144.

2) Synthetic cathinones

Often referred to as bath salts, these stimulants attempt to mimic the effects of amphetamines and MDMA (molly). Examples include MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone) and mephedrone.

3) Synthetic phenethylamines

These compounds aim to mimic the effects of drugs like MDMA and amphetamines. Examples include 2C-B, 2C-E, and 2C-I.

4) Synthetic tryptamines

These substances attempt to replicate the effects of hallucinogens like LSD and psilocybin. Examples include 5-MeO-DALT and AMT (alpha-methyltryptamine).

5) Piperazines

Originally developed as antihelminthic agents, certain piperazine compounds were later marketed as party pills due to their stimulant effects. Examples include BZP (benzylpiperazine) and TFMPP (trifluoromethylphenylpiperazine).

6) Pipradrols

These substances have stimulant properties and attempt to recreate the effects of drugs like amphetamines. Examples include desoxypipradrol (2-DPMP) and ethylphenidate.

7) N-ring systems

These designer drugs have varying effects and often fall under the radar due to their novelty. Examples include AH-7921 and MT-45.

The chemical structures and effects of designer drugs can change rapidly as manufacturers alter formulations to evade legal restrictions. Due to the risks associated with their use, avoid experimenting with these substances and seek professional help if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction to designer drugs.

Designer Drug Addiction

Designer drugs, while often perceived as novel and recreational, have the potential to lead people unwittingly down a path of addiction. The allure of these substances, combined with their unpredictable effects and the mistaken belief that they might be safer due to their origins, can contribute to the development of addiction. Here are some key points to understand about designer drug addiction:

  • Psychological dependence: The mind-altering effects of designer drugs, created to excite the brain’s reward system, can lead to psychological dependence. People using these substances may crave the intense highs produced and find it challenging to cope with daily life without them.
  • Compulsive use: Addiction to designer drugs can result in compulsive patterns of use, where people prioritize obtaining and using the substances over other aspects of their life. This can lead to neglect of responsibilities, relationships, and personal well-being.
  • Tolerance and escalation: Continued use of designer drugs can lead to tolerance, meaning that over time, higher doses are needed to achieve the desired effects. This escalation in usage can intensify the risk of health complications and addiction.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: When attempting to quit or cut down on designer drug use, individuals may experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue, and intense cravings. These symptoms can make it difficult to stop using the substance and may contribute to the cycle of addiction.
  • Physical and mental health effects: Long-term use of designer drugs can have serious physical and mental health consequences. These substances can impact brain function, leading to cognitive deficits, mood disorders, and even psychosis. Physical health issues such as heart problems, kidney damage, and respiratory issues can also arise.
  • Isolation and stigma: Addiction can lead to isolation as individuals prioritize obtaining and using the drugs over maintaining social connections. Additionally, the stigma associated with drug addiction may prevent individuals from seeking help and support.
  • Treatment and recovery: Overcoming designer drug addiction requires comprehensive treatment that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction. Behavioral therapies, counseling, support groups, and medical interventions can all play a role in the recovery process.
  • Prevention and education: Raising awareness about the dangers of designer drugs and their potential for addiction is crucial. Educating people about the risks, legal consequences, and availability of treatment options can help prevent the initiation of use.

Designer drug addiction, like addiction to any substance, can have profound negative effects on all areas of life. Recognizing the signs of addiction, seeking help early, and engaging in evidence-based treatment are essential steps toward recovery and rebuilding a healthy and fulfilling life.


What is a designer drug?

The DEA recognizes seven designer drugs. These are synthetic substances created in clandestine labs to replicate the effects of drugs like marijuana, opioids, and ketamine.

What are some designer drug examples?

Examples of designer drugs include synthetic cannabinoids and bath salts (synthetic stimulants).

What is the designer drug definition?

The DEA defines designer drugs as NPS (new psychoactive substances), synthetic substances with no legitimate medical use that present an ongoing safety threat in the United States.

A woman sits looking out a window to represent what are designer drugs

Treatment for Designer Drug Addiction

Overcoming designer drug addiction requires a comprehensive and tailored approach to address the physical, psychological, and social aspects of addiction. While the unique composition and effects of designer drugs can present challenges, effective treatment is available to help individuals regain control of their lives. Here are some key components of treatment for designer drug addiction:

Medical detoxification

The first step in treatment often involves medical detox, where individuals safely withdraw from designer drugs under medical supervision. Medical professionals can manage withdrawal symptoms, provide necessary medications, and ensure the person’s safety throughout the process.

Behavioral therapies

Behavioral therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), and CM (contingency management) can help people identify and change harmful thought patterns and behaviors. These therapies equip individuals with coping skills to manage triggers and cravings.

Individual counseling

One-on-one counseling sessions provide a safe space for individuals to explore the root causes of their addiction, set goals for recovery, and work through emotional challenges. Therapists help clients develop strategies for managing stress, triggers, and relapse.

Group therapy

Group therapy sessions allow individuals to connect with peers who share similar experiences. Sharing stories, offering support, and learning from others can reduce feelings of isolation and help build a strong support network.

Family therapy

Family therapy can help repair relationships strained by addiction, educate family members about addiction, and provide a supportive environment for recovery.

Dual diagnosis treatment

Many people with designer drug addiction may also have co-occurring mental health disorders. Dual diagnosis treatment addresses both addiction and underlying mental health conditions through integrated care.

Holistic therapies

Holistic therapies like mindfulness, yoga, art therapy, and exercise can complement traditional treatments by promoting physical and emotional well-being.

Support groups

Participating in support groups like NA (Narcotics Anonymous), whether in-person or online, offers ongoing encouragement and connection with others who are navigating similar challenges in their recovery journey.

Aftercare planning

The transition from treatment back to daily life is crucial. Aftercare planning involves creating a personalized plan to maintain sobriety, which may include continued therapy, support group participation, and ongoing medical monitoring.

Relapse prevention

Learning strategies to identify triggers, manage cravings, and prevent relapse is a fundamental aspect of treatment. These skills empower individuals to navigate challenges and sustain their recovery.

A woman sits looking out at a sunset to represent designer drugs effect treatment in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Get Treatment for Designer Drug Addiction at Ohio Recovery Centers

Have you been abusing designer drugs to the extent of addiction? If so, we can help you recalibrate your life at Ohio Recovery Centers with a variety of outpatient drug addiction treatment programs.

For those with mild or moderate addictions, intensive outpatient treatment is proven just as effective as residential rehab. Crucially, outpatient treatment is also much more flexible and affordable. Choose from these programs at our Cincinnati, Ohio rehab:

All Ohio Recovery Centers treatment programs blend science-backed and holistic interventions for a whole-body approach to drug addiction recovery. All outpatient programs include a robust aftercare component.

Call admissions today at 877-679-2132 for immediate assistance.

Table of Contents

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn