Synthetics Addiction

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If someone wants to purchase designer drugs today, it’s easy enough to do so via the Internet. Some also think that the synthetics they purchase over the counter at convenience stores, gas stations, or head shops are safe and legal. Still, others buy synthetics such as MDMA (ecstasy) illicitly.

Research chemicals (designer drugs) are a broad category of unregulated psychoactive compounds that include a host of synthetics and plant-derived substances and products.1 The truth is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate most of these imported research chemicals.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to synthetics, you may not know what to do. You can get help at Northbound Addiction Treatment Center in Orange County. If you’re on the fence about your options, here are some things to consider.

What Are Synthetic Drugs?

Tryptamines and phenethylamines cover a menagerie of manufactured substances that produce psychoactive effects. These research chemicals are available for sale over the Internet, in convenience stores and in head shops. Their labels matter because it’s one of the ways questionable synthetics manufacturers skirt regulations.3 

The truth is, synthetics have a long history of legal use, many being successful tools to treat physical pain, and mental health issues, among other conditions. It’s the limitless combinations and unknown side-effects that make synthetics dangerous when they’re unregulated or abused.3

Synthetics come in powder, crystalline, liquid, and pill form. Users swallow, smoke, inject, and snort them to get effects ranging from what comes from smoking marijuana to ingesting cocaine or hallucinogens.2,3,4,5

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As far back as 2009 through 2013 CNN, reported that the DEA found synthetics such as methylone, MePP, and MDPV and more, in over 80 percent of the Molly (a nickname for MDMA) seized in New York.Today there are vastly more synthetics with stronger and potentially hazardous effects.

Misleading Labels

These research chemicals get designations such as plant food and labeled not for human consumption.5 The products are cheap and easily accessible via the Internet, in gas stations, at convenience stores, and smoke shops.1,2  

Additionally, some synthetic cannabinoid products have a label that leads consumers to believe the products are natural. Still, the only natural part is the dried plant material. The active ingredients are manufactured as cannabinoid compounds.4

Types of Synthetics: Cannabinoids

You’ll find synthetic cannabinoids or herbal incense packaged with names like Spice and K2.2,4 Manufacturers can spray synthetic cannabinoids on dried plant material that can be smoked. Cannabinoid synthetics are also popular to consume in liquid form through a vaporizer, e-cig, or another device.4

Although the effects seem similar to the natural cannabinoids in marijuana, thinking of synthetics as fake weed or synthetic marijuana is misleading. The truth is they affect the brain differently than marijuana, are unpredictable, and can be dangerous, even life-threatening.4

Manufacturers continuously alter research chemicals to slip through federal regulations. And, while users report similarities to marijuana, such as relaxation and altered perception, cannabinoid synthetics are known to cause rapid heart rate, vomiting, behavioral changes, and suicidal thoughts in some users. Additionally, these synthetics can be addictive.4

Synthetic Stimulants and Opioids 

Other common types of synthetics include stimulants such as bath salts, Flakka (alpha-PVP)5, and MDMA (ecstasy, Scooby snacks). They come as capsules, tablets, crystalline powder, or liquid.Synthetics affect the central nervous systems and mimic the effects of cocaine, methamphetamines, and hallucinogens.5

For example, MDMA, (ecstasy, Molly) alters a person’s mood and perception, acting as both a stimulant and a hallucinogen. Today, pure Molly may contain cocaine, bath salts, ketamine, methamphetamine, and even over-the-counter cough medicine.7

U-47700 (U4, pink, pinky) is a white or light pink powder or is pressed into pills to look like painkillers. Like other opioid synthetics, the effects and withdrawals are similar to heroin.5

Withdrawal from Synthetics

Withdrawal symptoms from synthetics are similar to that of opioids. They range in severity depending on the drugs and the length of time a person uses. Someone who is trying to quit synthetic cannabinoids might experience withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, anxiety, irritability, and depression.4

A person can also overdose using synthetics, experiencing toxic reactions such as elevated blood pressure, seizures, and kidney damage. The risk is higher because other kinds of synthetics such as synthetic opioids might be in the mix.4

Synthetics activate neurotransmitters in the brain and cause an overproduction of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Afterward, the brain produces less of the natural chemicals, and as a result, the user is often depressed, anxious, and craves the drug to get over the negative feelings.7 It’s a vicious cycle that frequently needs intervention.

Synthetic Drug Addiction 

Synthetics often have unpredictable side effects due to unregulated manufacturing. People abuse them because of their psychedelic and euphoric side-effects. However, you might not realize that synthetics are addictive.

Physical dependence happens as the body adapts to the drug. Consequently, you build a tolerance and need more of it to get the same effect. But physical dependence isn’t all there is to addiction. Both the compulsive need to repeatedly use, despite the consequences at work, socially, or with family members, and increasing tolerance and physical dependence also define addiction.8

There is a psychological component, and there may be even more to a person’s need to self-medicate with synthetics. Other mental health issues often accompany drug addiction.

Co-Existing Conditions

 A dual diagnosis means that there’s an untreated mental health disorder that is an underlying factor. Stress, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety are all underlying mental health issues that either start from or contribute to addiction. Mental health disorders affect a person’s mood, behavior, how they relate to friends, family, co-workers, and others. 

Your mental health can also diminish your capacity for good decision making.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, six to 10 people who abuse synthetics also have another mental health issue. These mental health disorders are often closely intertwined and require integrated treatment.8

A person must detox to get to the root of the problem. Then there’s an opportunity to treat both issues simultaneously. Integrated care at a place like Northbound’s Addiction Treatment Center in Orange County helps individuals manage their mental health and gives them tools to overcome their substance addiction.

Treatment for Synthetics Drug Addiction

You must go through detoxification before any long-term treatment can happen. Depending on the synthetics, withdrawals can last a few days to several weeks. There might also be psychological symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, confusion, feelings of desperation, depression, and nightmares that linger.

Detox addresses physical withdrawal symptoms through individualized treatment with round-the-clock monitoring by qualified professionals to keep you safe, comfortable, and motivated. 

Physical symptoms include:

  • Palpitations
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

Additionally, medically assisted treatment (MAT) may also be an option depending on how severe the withdrawals. There are a variety of synthetics that can ease and prevent withdrawal symptoms, reducing craving. MAT is effective in combination with other psychological, behavioral therapies, and social services.8

Medical professionals will administer specific doses and monitor their effects. Using MAT can help break the cycle of taking the drug, stopping, craving it, and starting again.8

After detoxification, the next step is to make a recovery plan.

Types of Treatments

Behavioral therapies help people engage in their recovery with incentives to maintain abstinence. Treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works to modify behavioral patterns like substance abuse by teaching you how to identify problematic behaviors and correct them. You’ll learn to reframe attitudes and behaviors that lead to addiction, with new coping skills to handle stress and triggers that increase the likelihood you’ll want to use synthetics.8

Other potential treatments include:

  • Contingency Management Interventions
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy
  • 12-Step programs
  • Family Behavior Therapy
  • Music and Art Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Ultimately, your recovery is an individual path that can benefit from professional help.

Individual Rehabilitation Plan

Your mental health, social circle, biological and genetic factors, and spirituality all play roles in your long-term recovery. A rehabilitation plan works to reveal the root causes of problematic behavior and ways to correct it. You can improve your chances of preventing relapse and increase your overall well-being with tangible goals on a path to lifelong recovery. 

Get Help and Break Free

Northbound’s Orange County Addiction Treatment Programs uses evidence-based therapies with fully integrated treatment plans that consider your individual needs as you progress. 

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After detox, we’ll work with you through Music Therapy, Behavioral Therapy, and more to help you learn prevention techniques to achieve long-term recovery. Together we’ll align your recovery plan with your unique needs and goals. You’ll have a team of professionals who offer therapy, counseling, and tools to help you achieve long-term recovery.

We use evidence-based therapies to address underlying mental health disorders that contribute to addiction. You’ll receive assessments and evaluations to ensure a treatment plan that addresses your needs, participate in group therapy, and get support to help achieve and maintain abstinence.

Are you ready to take the first step on the road to recovery? Then get in touch to find out about our detox programs, residential treatment, outpatient treatment, and addiction support services today. We’re here to help!


1National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012). Patterns of use of new synthetic drugs in a sample of research chemical users in Spain

2Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (2020). Synthetic Drugs.

3National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine (2008). “Research Chemicals”: Tryptamine and Phenethylamine Use Among High-Risk Youth.

4National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018). Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice) DrugFacts

5The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (2020). Designer Drugs.

6CNN Health (2018). 9 things everyone should know about the drug Molly.

7National Institute on Drug Abuse (2020). MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) DrugFacts

8National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).





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