Synthesize can be defined as the making of similar copies of a drug with easier and more obtainable chemicals. To synthesize means to combine different elements or ideas to create something new or whole. In the contxet of addiction Synthesized drugs are more commonly refered to as Synthetic drugs, commonly known as novel psychoactive substances (NPS) or designer drugs, are a growing concern in relation to substance abuse. These drugs, which include synthetic cannabinoids (“K2” or “Spice”) and synthetic cathinones (“Bath salts”), are artificially created in laboratories. Synthetic cannabinoids act as strong activators of cannabinoid receptors, while synthetic cathinones are derivatives of beta-keto amphetamine. These substances can lead to severe intoxication and even overdose deaths. They are readily available both locally and online, contributing to their widespread use.

Novel psychoactive substances are regulated but underground chemists continuously alter their chemical structures to evade legal restrictions, leading to a rapid evolution of these drugs.

Types of Synthesized Street Drugs

Several categories of synthetic drugs or Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), are prevalent. These include synthetic cannabinoids, phenethylamines, synthetic cathinones, tryptamines, piperazines and novel benzodiazepines. Synthetic cannabinoids, designed to mimic cannabis effects, have been sold online since 2004. They resemble THC, the active component in cannabis but newer versions may not produce the same effects. Often mixed with solvents and herbs, synthetic cannabinoids are smoked or consumed as tea with varying chemical compositions even within the same batch.
‘Spice’ was the first of many synthetic cannabinoids sold in online, followed by others like ‘kronic’, ‘northern lights’ and ‘mojo’. The effects, similar to cannabis, include euphoria, well-being, increased appetite and dry mouth. However, toxic effects like rapid heart rate, hypertension, vomiting, kidney problems, psychosis and even death have been increasingly reported.

Phenethylamines encompass amphetamines, MDMA and synthetic hallucinogens like NBOMes and benzodifurans, which can mimic other psychedelics and are found in various forms.

Synthetic cathinones, related to the khat plant, are stimulants that resemble amphetamines, mostly appearing as powders or crystals and sometimes in capsule or tablet form. Tryptamines, found in plants, animals and fungi, include substances like DMT and psilocybin. Piperazines, mimicking MDMA’s effects, are sold as ‘MDMA’ in various forms and can have similar effects to MDMA when specific chemicals are combined.

Novel benzodiazepines, often sold as ‘legal benzodiazepines’ or ‘research chemicals,’ include unapproved or uniquely structured chemicals with limited information available on their health impacts.

Traditional drug screening methods often fail to detect them making them particularly appealing to young people and others seeking to avoid drug detection. This evolving nature and the challenge in detection make Synthesized drugs a significant issue in drug abuse and public health.

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    Founded in 2008, WeDoRecover has evolved from an advisory service for addiction treatment into a comprehensive provider of care, following its 2019 merger with Changes Addiction Rehab in Johannesburg. Specialising in connecting patients to top-tier addiction treatment centers in the UK, South Africa and Thailand, WeDoRecover supports individuals globally, including those from the United Arab Emirates and Europe. Accepting both South African medical aid and international health insurance our organisation facilitates access to high-quality treatment for substance and alcohol use disorders, offering individualised care that addresses the physical, mental and social needs of patients.

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