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Drugs & Health Blog

Real Teens Ask: What Are Designer Drugs?

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

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?"

Designed in Secret

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, RohypnolLSD (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.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


It is not surprising that these unknown mixtures can cause dangerous side effects, such as seizures, memory loss, coma and even death.

This comment gives the unfortunate impression that it is only the "unknown mixtures" that cause dangerous side effects. In point of fact many of these drugs are entirely capable of leading to dangerous outcomes all by themselves. MDMA, or Ecstasy, itself, uncontaminated by anything else, is perfectly capable of resulting in seizure, hyperthermia and hyponatremia. In fact, the reported cases of medical emergency that involve other substances being ingested frequently have a symptom cluster that is identical to where MDMA is the only drug which was consumed. This suggests quite strongly that those other drugs may not even be strong contributors to the medical emergency.

shhh now
Well I think they should put down information like where they find these drugs, which "State" has been polled to see how popular it is and where you would be able to get a hold of the drug, most of us already know what the drugs are, we just need to know where we find it and its street name/
That is a horrible idea. If the information about where we can find a drug is put out there, there is a high possibility that people (adults,teenagers, even children) will use this information to find drugs

i think this story is great and helps you learn more about drugs

why anybody would put their bodies and life at risk doesnt make sense to me.

Because some people are really stupid, and do what other tell them to do. I think peer pressure is why alot of people do drugs, while they are teens.
Or because they've suffered horrible trauma early on in childhood and can't cope with their reality. Lots of addicts are in fact highly intelligent, and, I'm sure, wouldn't misspell "others."

If it deadly to make them at home, who would want to make it. it gross and not fun.

drugs are drugs and you should not use them unless prescribe by a doctor. designer durgs the name does not matter they are still drugs and you should not use them

I can't believe that these unknown compunds can lead to death. NOT SUPRISED!!! Thats why I don't do drugs. I don't want to be addicted.

teens are asking about this and i'm glad their questions are being anwsered. Because if they don't want to take bad drugs they know which ones to stay away from you.

Teens are trying these drugs and are ruining their lives for the future and the present.

Yes your right and I suppose most of the worlds other famous people agree... Such as cleopatra and lots of the animated TV shows kids watch agree. Oh wait those people used drugs. If people want to use drugs like pot who cares it's there choice.
you're and their**

I dont like the term "designer drugs" makes them seem more "cool".

[commercial link removed, per guidelines]

I think the term designer is used to make teens use them to "fit in" drugs are horrible...WHY DO PEOPLE EVEN DO THEM? you never know what was put in these drugs, or who made them
does these type of drug effect the brain

Hi Jessica,  yes designer drugs can affect the brain.  For example, MDMA increases the neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of brain cells): serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.  Please check our Drug Facts for more examples of how these drugs can be harmful. 

Idk me and my mates take mdma on a weekly basis and we've never have problems...
woooww your stupid

Thanks for sharing such idea. I hope, it will help teenagers.

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pretty interesting and cool

Really why do durgs they make your horrible

It's funny how some people that do drugs are still much more intelligent than those who don't use them.

Alright most of what you guys are saying is not true. Just because you do these party drugs dosent mean your going to to get addicted and ruin your life, if your already going to be a loser in life working a [expletive deleted, per guidelines] job and committing crimes i don't think drugs made you like that unless your on meth but I think anything in moderation is ok I [deleted per guidelines] have never been addicted or come close to dying. I'm almost don't with college and have maintained a 3.5 gpa. Once I'm done I'm gonna be making 50,000 a year staring out do you consider that ruining my future? I'm not saying anyone should do these drugs but what you guys are saying is completely biased, but if you are research it and know what your doing.

@Collegestudent First, you are absolutely correct – taking drugs does not make you a loser. If a person chooses to take drugs and does become addicted, that does not make them a loser either. People respond differently to different drugs, and sometimes a person can get caught up in the drug and become addicted when they certainly didn’t intend to. Even the same drug in the same person can cause different reactions at different times in that person’s life. And in some cases, a substance may not even contain any of what you thought you were taking! So, it’s generally a risky business….Good luck with college and your new job.

Interesting in what you are saying. So you think you are ok. Doing drugs maintaining a 3.5 GPA etc. What about your brain and what these chemicals can do to your brain? What about drug tests. You may think now that you have the world by the tail. But you need to look down the road. If you keep doing your drugs and you get married and have a child how is that going to affect the unborn child? You think it may not affect you now, but down the road you may be in for a rude awakening. Would you seriously take and injest these chemicals in your body without them being in a drug? I have research these drugs and several others and I can't understand what is the pleasure of subjecting your body and brain to these drugs.
If you dont need a drug test then you might make 50K but if you need a drug test for that job, you better quit while you still can drugs in moderation or not, you can still get addicted.

Drugs are bad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

pot = not oooohhh

be cool!!! stay in school!

if you do drugs then im not you r friend

Nobody cares

@ everyone that thinks they don't. These new designer drugs, like the salts, destroy lives, and it seems to be an equal opportunity destroyer from what I have watched in my own hometown. Destroying marriages, parents, careers, honor roll students; both high school and college...I watched two of my dearest friends and my boyfriend get caught up in the bath salt craze..I lost all 3 of them to the drug. We had all been in recovery for 8+ years, and in 1 month you wouldn't know unless you knew them prior. It's heartbreaking to watch someone you love attempt to end their life lie, steal, and hurt those they loved. The people I loved are gone to me forever because I didn't listen when someone talked about how bad these drugs were..I'm not saying I could have stopped them, but I will always wonder.

Anyone that says drugs are bad is ignorant. Drugs, inherently, are neither good nor bad. Nothing in the world is good or bad. People put labels on everything in order to simplify the world but create half truths and ignorance in the process


I loved this

extacy wont hurn ya :)

Ecstasy, or MDMA, actually can hurt you – it can cause confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, and severe anxiety. In high doses, MDMA can interfere with your body’s ability to regulate temperature, sometimes leading to hyperthermia, which can result in organ failure or death. Ecstasy tablets may also contain some ‘mysterious’ substances – so you never know what you may be taking or what the effects may be.

Considering you spelled Ecstasy wrong, yes it does.

just a little though

"drugs are drugs and you should not use them unless prescribe by a doctor. designer durgs the name does not matter they are still drugs and you should not use them"
oh yes, if they're from a doctor and FDA approved, they MUST be safe because you know whats in them.
in my opinion, ignorance is the worst drug

@Wilson No drug is 100% safe – prescription or otherwise. People react differently to different drugs. That is why it is very important for your doctor to monitor your medications to ensure you are receiving the proper dosage and to watch for side effects.

Its very informative article.i don't like"designer drugs".thans

College student, to start off with for someone so educated your grammar is terrible. Secondly i think your counting your chickens before they hatch. Your not finished with school yet. [deleted, per guidelines]. I have many more years of lifes experiences than you and from what i can tell you are an [deleted, per guidelines] fool. Children and teenagers that still have a choice and a future, Saying drugs will ruin your life is an understatement. I have seen smart people with good futures die from drugs. People that could have been doctors, chemist, astronauts ended up throwing their life away while they were looking for a way to get high. So if you want to listen to college student, (someone who probably has not finished their first semester) then go ahead a throw your life away. And when you are sitting in jail because you got busted by the cops, i hope you remember reading this because you wont even be able to get a job at mcdonald's.

These drugs aren't particularly dangerous by themselves, and in general taking drugs is no more dangerous than many activities we readily engage in on a daily or weekly basis. The greatest threat of all posed by designer drugs is that buyer may not get exactly what they signed up for, and consuming something unknowingly is inherently dangerous. If someone is really intent on taking something, whether or not they should, I think it's in everyone's best interest that that something is somehow regulated.

What They Look like aspen or tunes is the big drugs you buy no the street can kill you too no drug is100/safe even if is so
Many teens come the police do not know about some of Theses drugs and how power they Are . Hope the if there is a thatEmt Can
Overdonce will teens a in danger is a Growing ps. Hope some of the dotcotr read up on thesis now Dugrs so they save a
Boys or GIrls life . I for one do not want to try any of theses now Dengner Dugrs if they are that powerful why try something
You can kill you. Want to live watch a good sun raise ever day . And brith the air . Don,t want my GirlFirend or my family see me die . I love life .

haha pot = not; wow