Synthetic drugs are chemicals created in laboratories to mimic the effects of other drugs including marijuana, cocaine, meth or LSD. These drugs contain unknown substances which frequently change as producers attempt to evade legal bans. Since the chemicals and concentrations of these drugs change frequently,they are very dangerous as users have now way of knowing what they are really putting into their bodies.

Different Types of Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic drugs often mimic the appearance and the manner of consumption of the drugs they are trying to imitate.

  • Spice is a synthetic cannabinoid. Originally created to study the effects of THC on the brain, changes to the chemicals involved in making Spice have resulted in unique side effects and dangers.1 Spice usually comes in small, brightly colored packages filled with a green leafy substance and labeled as organic incense or "not for human consumption".2 Some users smoke Spice together with marijuana as it is uniquely addictive. Many users purchase Spice from businesses like head shops and convenience stores which contributes to the misperception that Spice is safe, when in reality it is illegal and dangerous.2
  • Bath salts fall into a category of illegal drugs known as synthetic cathinones. Chemically these drugs have similarities to meth and ecstasy. These synthetic drugs come as a white or light colored powder and are often sold as bath salts, plant food or jewelry cleaner although they perform none of these functions. These drugs are often targeted to a similar user group as Spice and are packaged attractively for young people.3
  • "Smiles" and "N-Bomb" are common names for synthetics in the NBOMe series of psychoactive drugs created to produce a high similar to LSD. Some users have died after believing they were consuming LSD when they were really consuming a dangerous and more potent drug.4,5 These drugs are consumed in a similar fashion to LSD, as a liquid, on blotter paper or mixed in food and are popular among young users and in club and festival scenes.6

Warning Signs

Synthetic drugs are real drugs with real consequences. Each individual's body can have a different reaction to the abuse, of synthetic drugs so while there are some similarities, not everyone exhibits the same warning signs. 

  • Physical: Some common symptoms of synthetic drug use include a flushed face, increased heart rate and a vacant, dissociative stare often acompanied by a chemical smell.7
  • Behavioral: Drug users concerned about being discovered may be more secretive than usual and less interested in previously enjoyed hobbies, activities and friendships.7
  • Psychological: Users under the influence are often easily agitated and some experience violent episodes, endangering themselves and others. Some users have experienced troubling and unexpected hallucinations.7

Since many synthetic drugs are consumed in a simiar manner as more traditional illicit drugs, individuals will often possess similar paraphernalia including bongs, hollowed out cigars and 

flavored rolling paper or blotter paper. Parents should be aware of what these substances look like since some of them can also be used by minors to consume tobacco and other illegal substances. The packaging for many synthetic drugs is deceptively friendly and innocent, so it is very important for parents and family to pay attention and speak with their children about the very real dangers of abusing synthetic drugs.


In 2013 poison control centers received over 3,600 calls related to synthetic drug exposure. Through May 2014 alone poison control centers have received over 1,300 calls.8 People acting under the influence of synthetic drugs or attempting to acquire these drugs have been linked with the commission of crimes including operating while intoxicated,9 theft,10 burglary,11 robbery,12 child neglect,13 aggravated assault14 and murder.15

Reported side effects of synthetic drug use include nausea and vomiting, increased heart rate and chest pain, kidney damage or failure, severe aggitation and anxiety, hallucinations and psychotic episodes and death. News agencies and coroners across the country have reported homicides, suicides, accidental overdoses and vehicular manslaughters where individuals were acting under the influence of synthetic drugs.


Synthetic drugs are addictive and some users may require professional intervention. If you are concerned about the warning signs of synthetic drug addiction in the life of someone you know or love, there is help. On the resources page of our website you can find links and information to educate yourself on the warning signs and consequences of synthetic drug use. Additionally there is contact information for facilities in Elkhart County that can assist individuals in reclaiming their lives from the influence of addiction.