Trends are constantly changing, and drug trends are no exception. Recently, designer and synthetic drugs are “in.” Is your teen facing an addiction to one of these drugs? Get help now.

The Drug Landscape Is Changing

Drug use in the U.S. evolves every year. Recently, synthetic or designer drugs have increased in popularity, especially among adolescents. There are three factors that have led to the designer drug trend. First, over the last decade, online shops have changed how teens can access and acquire drugs, replacing traditional street dealers for the ubiquitous digital shopping cart. Second, these drugs are available “legally” and at affordable prices. Third, ingenuity has played a role in how these synthetic drugs are constantly abused, manipulated and tweaked in order to circumvent ever-changing drug laws.

Designer Drugs

Synthetic drugs are nothing new, but creators are constantly changing the chemical components in them, making these drugs more potent and more deadly each year. On top of the constant chemical alterations to the drugs, they’re often sold in inconspicuous packaging.

Risks of Designer Drugs

There is a tremendous amount of false advertising regarding synthetic drugs. Often, they’ll have a “not for human consumption” label on the packaging in order to get around strict drug laws. Warnings like this one don’t necessarily thwart potential users. In fact, in 2015 alone, poison centers across the U.S. reported close to 8,000 cases of exposure to synthetic marijuana — despite similar warnings plastered across some of the packaging.

These drugs are also marketed as “natural” products because a lot of the ingredients are derived from plants. But the truth is that the dried plant components only make up a small part of the drug. Most of the damage is done by the dangerous mind-altering ingredients that are added to or sprayed onto the concoction, developed in laboratories.

While the effects are intended to mimic the highs of traditional drugs, the side effects of designer drugs can vary — depending on how the compound has been altered or what it’s been laced with. The risks include:

  • altered perception
  • delusion or disordered thinking
  • detachment from reality
  • extreme paranoia
  • hallucinations
  • depression
  • increased heart rate
  • suicidal thoughts
  • seizures
  • renal failure

Popular Designer Drugs

In recent years, three designer drugs have especially exploded onto the scene.

  • Synthetic Cannabinoids – Among high school seniors, synthetic marijuana abuse (often marketed and referred to as “Spice”) trails in popularity only to natural marijuana. In a 2015 study, over 5% of 12th graders and 3% of 8th graders claimed to have used the drug during the past year.
  • Synthetic Cathinones – Bath salts have notoriously unpredictable results. In 2011, more than 22,000 instances of bath salt use caused the user to end up in the emergency room. A growing number of users also combine these drugs with other drugs to further complicate the euphoric side effects. Last year, 1% of 12th graders used the drug.
  • Alpha-PVP – Closely related to bath salts, flakka has surged in popularity in recent years — especially in Florida. The drug has been linked with wild behavioral problems, including reports of hallucinations and impaling deaths among users. Use of the drug has increased by 780% over the last 3 years.

Synthetic drugs aren’t the only trendy drugs on the market. Heroin and ketamine have also been growing in popularity amongst teens in recent years.


The effects of heroin aren’t necessarily a revelation of some sort, but as more and more teens report they or friends are using the drug, it’s worth noting. The rates of use have risen to 63% over the past decade — an alarmingly quick climb. In 2009, 21,000 American teenagers sought treatment for an addiction to heroin.

The drug impacts the brain in profound ways, including:

  • hindering decision-making abilities
  • slowing the response to stressful situations
  • limiting the ability to regulate behavior


An anesthetic used in veterinary clinics, ketamine has seen increased popularity among young people. It has a tranquilizing effect on the user and is available as a clear liquid or white powder. Large doses of ketamine can slow down breathing and heart rate, leaving the user detached from reality and often unable to move. Its effects last for 18–24 hours. Because of this, sexual assault perpetrators also commonly use the drug to facilitate date rape. Teens and young adults account for 74% of ketamine-related ER visits.

Does Your Teenager Need Addiction Treatment?

If you think your teen may be abusing drugs, it’s crucial you take early and immediate action. Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate based on gender, socioeconomic status or age. As scary, confusing or unbelievable as it may seem, your child could be facing addiction. You may feel embarrassed or be in disbelief — the American stigma surrounding addiction engrains that reaction into our heads. But the truth is, addiction is a medical disease and is no one’s fault. And, as with any other medical disease, professional treatment is the most effective way to heal. You’ll need help navigating this disease, which is why we recommend calling a knowledgeable resource, such as your family doctor or our recovery advisors.

Over the years, we have spoken confidentially with many parents in your shoes. Every call our helpline answers — whether it’s just to vent, or to get questions answered, or to discuss teen rehab options — is free and confidential. You’ll find support and understanding on the other line. We’re here to support you and point you in the direction of health for your child. Just give us a call.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.