Capable mental health therapists assisting substance-addicted young adults get back to full physical and spiritual health will know of the importance of keeping up to date with the latest knowledge about drugs and their effects. The situation is no different with what are known as “designer drugs”, which are manufactured to chemically resemble illicit drugs, but with their chemical structures often modified by the manufacturer to circumvent drug legislation.
Examples of designer drugs include spice (synthetic cannabinoids) and bath salts (synthetic cathinones), the cocaine or marijuana-esque effects that they produce being a key factor in their popularity. However, the chronic use and/or high doses of designer drugs have also been associated with such dangerous medical consequences as psychosis, tachycardia, violent behaviors, hyperthermia and even death.
Designer drugs are also sometimes referred to as “new psychoactive substances” (NPS) and despite the alarming rise in the levels of abuse of such drugs, there is a lack of scientific data about them. It was in order to review what is presently known about designer drugs’ effect on the brain that a symposium was recently held.
One or a combination of synthetic cathionones can be included in bath salts, these chemicals acting on transporters for the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. It is these same transporters through which the psychoactive effects of ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines are produced. It is a similar situation for synthetic cannabinoids, which resemble marijuana in their activation of the same cannabinoid receptors as marijuana’s main psychoactive component, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
According to animal studies, there are also behavioral effects caused by both classes of designer drugs that resemble the drugs of abuse that they share mechanisms with. However, some different effects are also produced, due to slight chemical structure differences. The cathionone MDPV exerts 50 times greater strength on the dopamine transporter than cocaine. Meanwhile, synthetic cannabinoids do not last as long as THC and also differ in how they are metabolized, which could mean greater potential for abuse, as well as for interactions with medication and other toxic effects.
The easy availability of designer drugs is only making it all the more crucial for both their expected and unexpected effects to be better understood, so that the public – including many young adults – can be better-informed on the health and safety risks that they pose.