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How Do You Identify Synthetic Drugs?

Synthetic drugs are designed in a lab to mimic the effect of other drugs, such as marijuana, MDMA, or cocaine. The strategy is to change the chemical structure just slightly so that the synthetic drug has a similar effect to the original drug but is not detected by drug tests and is not technically illegal.

The problem with synthetics is that these small chemical changes have unpredictable effects. A small change to a drug’s molecular structure may have very little effect. For example, the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone differ by only a few atoms and the drugs have very similar effects. On the other hand, HU-210, a synthetic cannabinoid used in “synthetic marijuana” differs from THC by only a few atoms but is hundreds of times more potent.

There’s no way to know ahead of time how these small changes might affect the body. There are also a huge variety of these drugs and manufacturers often change formulations faster than they can be banned. The result is a proliferation of mystery substances that might have no effect at all or might make you psychotic.

It’s best to avoid these synthetics completely. This includes anything made in a lab. LSD, MDMA, and PCP are all common synthetic drugs. Although MDMA and LSD have a relatively long track record and are now being studied for their therapeutic potential, most of the MDMA and LSD on the street is some synthetic variant. Meth is another common drug that is always synthetic.

Other synthetics will be advertized as synthetics. “Synthetic marijuana” is everywhere. Since the strategy of synthetic drug manufacturing is to stay ahead of legislation, they usually want you to know that their product is similar to a familiar, illegal drug–but definitely not the actual illegal drug.

If a drug is sold openly in convenience stores or head shops, it is likely synthetic. Often they are sold as something else–potpourri, incense, fish food, plant food, bath salts. Bath salts is probably the most infamous example, as it used to be sold legally until a few years ago, when its violent and psychotic effects attracted media attention. If something is sold as a product you wouldn’t normally consume, it’s best not to consume it.

Basically, there is no way to be sure a street drug is not synthetic or partly synthetic. Even organic marijuana may be treated with some synthetic chemical. There are now some lab tests that can detect drugs, but these are typically for hospitals and law enforcement. Just as the changing formulas stay ahead of legislation, they also stay ahead of treatment and doctors often don’t know what kind of drug they are dealing with.

If you or someone you love is having trouble with synthetics or other kinds of drugs, Gardens Wellness Center can help by treating withdrawal as well as injury or illness caused by using synthetics. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.