Designer Drugs: Definition, Types & Examples

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

Designer drugs are synthetically created substances designed to mimic the effects of existing drugs. In this lesson, learn more about the dangers of designer drugs and see examples of types of designer drugs.

What Is a Designer Drug?

When you hear the word ''drugs,'' a variety of thoughts may come to mind. You may think of strung-out addicts wasting their lives away. You might conjure up images of shady characters handing over substances in dark alleys. On the other hand, you might think of prescription drugs monitored by physicians and handed out carefully. But how much do you know about designer drugs? Typically anything labeled as designer is elite, sophisticated, and prestigious. However, designer drugs are nothing of the sort.

Example of Meth Lab
Meth lab

Designer drugs is a term used for those illegal drugs that are created synthetically in a lab. They are made to mimic the effects of existing drugs. Since many are essentially homemade substances, they often contain common household ingredients, including harsh cleaning chemicals and sometimes poisons. Designer drugs have provided many users with a way to circumvent the law since people can simply use their own devices and ingredients to create substances similar to illegal drugs.

Types and Examples of Designer Drugs

We all know different types of illegal street drugs: cocaine, heroin, and (in most states) marijuana. It is no surprise that possessing and using these substances is against the law. However, when it comes to designer drugs, the law isn't nearly as defined. Because designer drugs have chemical structures that are altered or slightly different from other drugs, they are not always considered illegal. However, one has become notorious for its devastating effects and is most certainly illegal: methamphetamine.

Crystal Meth
Crystal meth

Methamphetamine is a prime example of a designer drug that is conjured up in basements and garage labs. Meth labs are often a hot topic in the news, as explosions and garage fires are common during the cooking process. Meth popularity surged in the 1990s, with instructions and recipes widely available on the Internet. Making this highly addictive and dangerous drug involves mixing together a variety of harsh chemicals, such as battery acid and drain cleaner, with over-the-counter cold medicine. Meth represents one of the worst drug problems of today.

Another common example of a designer drug is ecstasy. Ecstasy, which is the common name for a drug called MDMA, is a hallucinogen and a stimulant that produces effects similar to the amphetamine class, and a major pharmaceutical company originally developed it. Popular among club and rave fans, ecstasy gained its popularity in the 1980s. In an attempt to win over the younger crowd, this drug comes in brightly colored tablets with familiar logos. However, behind the candy-like appearance is a potentially wide range of harmful substances, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and rat poison.

Colorful Ecstasy Tablets
Drug ecstasy

Bath salts are another type of designer drug. Not to be confused with actual salts that one puts into a warm bath, bath salts are a group of drugs known as cathinones. These chemicals resemble amphetamines and produce a similar type of high. They are called ''bath salts'' in part due to their resemblance to actual salts but also to evade the law. Sold in tidy foil packets, they are cleverly labeled as ''plant food'' or ''jewelry cleaner,'' with ''not for human consumption'' stated on the package.

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