Questions about drugs? Lots of teens are asking. That’s why each year, NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At the last Drug Facts Chat Day, “Boxy” from St. Henry District High School in Kentucky asked:
What are designer drugs?
The term “designer drugs” refers to drugs that are created in a laboratory (typically, an “underground,” or secret, illegal lab). A designer drug is created by changing the properties of a drug that comes from a plant—such as cocaine, morphine, or marijuana—using the tools of chemistry. The resulting “designer” drugs typically have a new, different effect on the brain or behavior.
Examples of Designer Drugs
MDMA (Ecstasy), ketamine, GHB, Rohypnol, LSD (acid), and methamphetamine are some examples of designer drugs. These drugs may also be referred to as “club drugs” because of their use in night clubs.
Since many designer drugs are created in illegal labs, their ingredients and potency (how strong they are) vary a lot, making it nearly impossible to know what is actually in them or what they can do to you. For example, Ecstasy tablets are often contaminated with other things, like ephedrine (used to treat allergies and asthma), ketamine (an injected anesthetic given for minor surgeries), and methamphetamine (another illicit drug).
It is not surprising that these unknown mixtures can cause dangerous side effects, such as seizures, memory loss, coma and even death.
Find out more about club drugs.
My name is Yamini Naidu and I am a sophomore at Valley Catholic High School in Beaverton, Oregon. I have been working on a science project about Methamphetamine (METH) addiction for the past two years, beginning in the summer of 2009. To those who read this blog, I wanted to share my research experience on METH so you could learn about the great potential for biochemistry that exists in the world of drugs and addiction. I received guidance for this project from the Oregon Health and Science University, the Portland American Chemical Society, and my high school chemistry and biology teachers. My research focuses on developing a treatment for METH addiction through computer modeling.
I was inspired to do this science project because I have had an interest in the brain and in neurology ever since my uncle passed away from stroke as a complication of heart disease. I was intrigued by the fact that METH can cause strokes in young abusers by a process still unknown to science. I hope that my research will not only help in the treatment of METH addiction but also in the treatment of stroke. At present, there is no effective treatment for controlling METH craving during withdrawal and abstinence. The goal of my research is to find or create a small molecule that can potentially block METH from binding to a special activation site (called Site I). Site I is located on a receptor protein in the brain called hTAAR1 (human Trace Amine-Associated Receptor 1). METH normally binds to this receptor like a key fits a lock – only a key with that shape can fit in the TAAR1 lock.
While experimenting with computer models, I discovered two new activation sites (which I call Sites II and III) on the receptor protein. I predicted that certain chemicals that prefer to bind to these new sites can change the shape of the receptor, making it impossible for METH to stick. If the lock changes, the old key can’t fit! So, guided by the computer-generated 3D structures of the two new TAAR1 binding sites, I designed new compounds and verified by computer that they would match the shape of the new activation sites. These new compounds may be preferred over others because their chemical structures and shape give them a stronger potential to bind to the receptor. The Oregon Health and Science University has filed a patent application on my discovery of the two binding sites and my invention of the novel compounds. My future goals are to synthesize and evaluate the compounds that I designed as potential new medication leads in laboratory trials and eventually in human trials.
I first presented my project at the regional Central Western Oregon Science Expo. Several expos and science fairs later, I was selected by Intel NWSE to represent the state of Oregon at ISEF as a finalist, where I competed with 1,500 high school student finalists from around the country and world. At ISEF, I was awarded the First Place Award of $3,000 in the biochemistry category. In addition, I was invited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to give a talk on my research project in Washington, DC, this August. I have received recognition and rewards from many different organizations for my research, and I am happy now to share my great experience with more people.
That's what 17 year old Daniel Jeffrey Martin from Desert Vista High School heard from his mom one day while driving near a piece of the desert near his home town of Phoenix, Arizona. "Huh?" he asked. His mom, a forensic scientist (think: CSI), explained to him that when dead bodies are found in the desert by animals like coyotes, bobcats, and wolves, these scavengers will usually eat them—except for the bodies of methamphetamine users (proven by an autopsy).
Daniel thought this would be a perfect science fair project so he studied the records from the local county coroner's office. And sure enough—he learned that even scavenging animals don't want to go near the nasty chemicals left in the body by meth.
These photos from Daniel's science fair poster show the type of marks left by animal scavengers on bones. In his study, Daniel learned that the coroner found fewer scavenging marks on bodies that contained traces of methamphetamines.
The science project was so well done that Daniel won a Second Place Addiction Science Award from NIDA at the 2009 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. You can read more about his project at NIDA's Web site.
Are you a fan of Degrassi: the Next Generation, on Teen Nick? Well, I've got news for you. In the first show of the season, which aired last Friday, one of the characters got into trouble abusing drugs. I can't tell you much more than that, but I do know that when someone decides to take a drug the first time, it can be for many reasons, like to get a buzz, to experiment, or just to fit in. But, if you keep taking drugs, they can change the chemicals in your brain so that you may not be able to stop.
Degrassi star Jamie Johnston has recorded a special message about drug abuse that played during the show. But, hey, since you're here, why not view it now on NIDA's YouTube channel.
It's that time of year again-time to announce the results of NIDA's annual Monitoring the Future survey. For the 34th year, researchers went into classrooms all over the country and asked young people to fill out surveys about their drug use. This year 46,097 8th, 10th and 12th graders participated—that's a lot of teens! As the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this is one of my favorite times of the year because we hold a big news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC to let the public know what the researchers learned. Here's the news this year, good and bad.
The good news is that methamphetamine use is at its lowest since the survey started tracking it 10 years ago. At that time, 4.7% of teens said they had tried meth in the previous month, but this year, just 1.2% said they had used it. Teens are also smoking cigarettes less than they used to. About 1 in 10 high school seniors say they smoke every day, compared to 4 in 10 in 1999. This drop translates to longer, healthier lives for today's teens.
But of course the survey also shows some not-so-good things. So while cigarette smoking is down, it looks as if more kids are chewing tobacco. Believe it or not, more than 6% of 10th graders say they use smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco products contain many toxins, as well as high levels of nicotine (3-4 times more than cigarettes), which makes them addictive. Not to mention what it does to your teeth and breath. Here are some more facts.
Also, too many teens are still abusing prescription drugs, which is not good. Unless a medicine is prescribed for you and you take it the way your doctor tells you to, prescription pills can be as dangerous as street drugs. In fact, more people are dying from accidental overdoses of prescription drugs than from cocaine and heroin combined. We have done some blogs about this in the past.
And for the first time, NIDA's Monitoring the Future survey asked 12th graders about their use of salvia, an herb common to southern Mexico and Central and South America—5.7% of high school seniors had abused it in the past year. People who abuse salvia typically experience hallucinations or episodes that resemble a type of mental illness known as psychosis (sigh-ko-sis), which can really be scary.
For more information on this year's survey results, go to the NIDA home page and click on the "Monitoring the Future" link.
This is a guest post from the Director of NIDA, Dr. Nora Volkow.
The SBB has already told you about some of the nasty effects that methamphetamine can have on the body—remember that post about how scavengers won’t even eat the dead bodies of meth users?
Not only can meth mess up your body’s chemical structure and even cause problems with your heart and lungs, it also changes your appearance and behavior. Soon, meth users might not even look or act like themselves.
Bad news for teeth and skin. Ever heard of “meth mouth?” It isn’t pretty. Meth reduces the amount of protective saliva around the teeth. People who use the drug also tend to drink a lot of sugary soda, neglect personal hygiene, grind their teeth, and clench their jaws. The teeth of meth users can eventually fall out-even when doing something as normal as eating a sandwich. As if that’s not bad enough, meth can also cause skin problems-and we’re not just talking about regular zits.
Take a look at these pictures from the Department of Justice—but beware, they are disturbing!
Meth users’ skin can start to look like this because they frequently hallucinate—or strongly imagine—that they’ve got insects creeping on top of or underneath their skin. The person will pick or scratch, trying to get rid of the imaginary “crank bugs.” Soon, the face and arms are covered with open sores that could get infected.
No peace of mind. In addition to the “crank bug” hallucinations, long-term meth use leads to problems such as irritability, fatigue, headaches, anxiety, sleeplessness, confusion, aggressive feelings, violent rages, and depression.
Users may become psychotic and experience paranoia, mood disturbances, and delusions. The paranoia may even make the person think about killing themselves or someone else.
For more information about how methamphetamine could harm your body and mind, read more in-depth information on NIDA DrugFacts.