Research chemicals have been a topic of great interest for many professionals in different fields of science. These chemicals are synthetic substances that are used for scientific research purposes, but they have also become popular among recreational drug users. With their potential to alter mood, perception, and cognitive function, research chemicals have become an increasingly popular topic of conversation. In this blog post, we explore the most popular types of research chemicals and their uses. From psychoactive substances to cognitive enhancers and performance boosters, we will take a closer look at the diverse array of research chemicals available and their potential benefits and risks. Join us as we delve into the exciting world of research chemicals and discover the range of possibilities that they offer.
1. Synthetic drugs and research chemicals: definition and distribution
Synthetic drugs and research chemicals are substances that are produced in a laboratory setting, often with the intention of mimicking the effects of traditional drugs such as ecstasy or opioids. These substances are typically sold under various names and can be distributed through online markets or sold directly through street dealers. Due to their relatively recent emergence, synthetic drugs and research chemicals are subject to less regulation than traditional drugs, which can make them appealing to some users.
One common class of research chemicals is synthetic cannabinoids, which are designed to mimic the effects of THC found in marijuana. These substances are often sold as “spice” or “K2” and can cause a range of side effects, including anxiety, seizures, and paranoia. Other types of research chemicals include novel opioids such as U47700 and novel benzodiazepines like Etizolam. These substances may be synthesized specifically to skirt legal controls and can be extremely dangerous to users.
Research chemicals can also be used for legitimate scientific and medicinal purposes, such as developing new therapeutic agents. However, due to the lack of regulation and potential for abuse, it is important for scientists and healthcare professionals to carefully monitor these substances and ensure they are being used safely and ethically. In order to effectively identify and test new research chemicals, laboratories must develop and validate analytical methods for detecting them in biological specimens. Overall, while research chemicals may have some potential for therapeutic use, their widespread abuse and potential for harm make them a cause for concern in the medical and scientific communities. 
Research chemicals and synthetic drugs are substances that aim to mimic the effects of existing illicit drugs. These substances are also known as new psychoactive substances or NPS. The distribution of NPS is a global phenomenon, with 139 countries and territories reporting one or more NPS. As of December 2022, there have been 1182 NPS reported to the UNODC Early Warning Advisory by governments, laboratories, and partner organizations.
Often marketed as legal alternatives to illicit drugs, these substances carry risks due to a lack of information on their composition and potential health effects. While some synthetic drugs have been developed to mimic the effects of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, and other substances, their chemical structures differ from the original drugs they are trying to replicate.
The changing chemical makeup of synthetic drugs makes it difficult to determine how harmful these substances are in any dose since there is limited research on their short and long-term effects. Synthetic drugs do not undergo quality control or regulation, and the chemicals in each packet can vary, making it challenging to establish a recommended dosage.
Synthetic cannabinoids, a type of NPS, aim to mimic the effects of cannabis and have been sold in Australia since 2004. However, newer substances marketed as synthetic cannabinoids may not resemble the effects of the active ingredient in cannabis, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. The chemicals in each packet of synthetic cannabinoids can differ and can affect users in different ways, even if the branding and colors on the packet are the same.
Phenethylamines and synthetic cathinones are other groups of psychoactive drugs that fall under the category of research chemicals. Phenethylamines include drugs such as MDMA, while synthetic cathinones, also known as bath salts, mimic the effects of amphetamines. These substances can come in various forms, including powder, crystals, and blotting paper. It’s important to note that the use, production, and promotion of synthetic drugs are illegal and can result in severe penalties such as imprisonment and hefty fines. 
Types of popular research chemicals:
Research chemicals refer to substances synthesized in laboratories primarily for scientific and medical research purposes. However, some of these substances have found their way to the illicit drug market and are being abused by users. The most popular types of research chemicals include synthetic cannabinoids, novel opioids, benzodiazepines, stimulants, and hallucinogens. Synthetic cannabinoids such as JWH-018 are synthetic versions of naturally occurring cannabinoids found in marijuana and have similar psychoactive effects. Novel opioids like U47700 are designer opioids designed to mimic the effects of heroin and other opioids. Benzodiazepines like etizolam are compounds used for anxiety but are being abused due to their sedative effects. Stimulants like bath salts and cathinones have effects similar to methamphetamine, while hallucinogens like NBOMe are synthetic versions of psychedelics such as LSD. 
Stimulants are a class of research chemicals that increase alertness, energy, and attention. Some of the most popular stimulant research chemicals include ephedrine, methamphetamine, and cathinones. These drugs are often used recreationally or as performance enhancers in activities such as athletics or studying. They are usually snorted, swallowed, or injected, and can have serious health consequences if abused. Despite their widespread use, the production and sale of many stimulant research chemicals are illegal and subject to criminal prosecution. 
Psychedelics are a class of drugs that alter one’s cognition and perception, leading to experiences that differ from ordinary consciousness. The effects are often compared to non-ordinary states of consciousness such as dreams or religious ecstasy. Psychedelics include drugs like lysergamides and phenethylamines, which are often structurally similar to neurotransmitters like serotonin. These compounds can produce diverse effects, even if their structures are similar, and the effects are often difficult to predict.
Dissociatives are a type of drug that alters perceptions of sight and sound, leading to feelings of detachment from the self and environment. They can also produce hallucinogenic effects like sensory deprivation, dissociation, and dream-like states. Some dissociatives have depressant effects and can produce sedation, respiratory depression, and cognitive impairment. Examples of dissociatives include ketamine and phencyclidine (PCP).
Empathogens are drugs that produce emotional and social effects similar to those of MDMA, like feelings of love, empathy, and emotional closeness to others. MDMA and its derivatives are part of a larger chemical class of phenethylamines that act as entactogens, psychedelics, stimulants, and entheogens. Along with MDMA, empathogens include drugs like MDA, 6-APB, and 4-FA.
Designer drugs are substances that are designed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs while avoiding detection or classification. Many designer drugs are structural analogues of psychoactive drugs like amphetamines, opioids, and cannabinoids, but others are chemically unrelated. Some designer drugs, like benzodiazepines, are used in other countries but are not commonly seen in the US. Because of the lack of official names and the potential for hazardous mix-ups, designer drugs present a unique challenge to forensic toxicology laboratories. 
Dissociatives are a type of new psychoactive substance that has gained popularity in recent years. Also known as novel dissociatives, they are structurally similar to phencyclidine (PCP) and ketamine. Some examples of dissociatives are diphenidine and ketamine analogs, such as methoxetamine and deschloroketamine. These compounds are often marketed as legal highs or research chemicals, despite limited information being available on their short and long-term effects. As a result, there are serious concerns about their safety and potential risks.
Individuals who experiment with dissociatives hope to achieve certain goals, such as longer-lasting effects, analgesic properties, and decreased toxicity. However, the efficacy of these goals for any given compound is uncertain. Due to the anonymity of the internet, individuals can easily discuss chemistry and psychoactive effects and even collaborate on designing new dissociative compounds. This dynamic has created an evolving game between legislatures, law enforcement, and research chemical market players.
Two distinct classes of dissociative-based new psychoactive substances are the 12-diarylethylamines and β-keto-arylcyclohexylamines. For example, the former includes diphenidine and fluorolintane analogs, whereas the latter includes ketamine analogs like methoxetamine and 2-fluoro-2-deschloroketamine. Despite their classification as dissociatives, these compounds may have different effects due to differences in their chemical structure and activity at the NMDA receptor.
In some cases, these compounds have made their way into academic labs where potential clinical applications have been identified. However, because dissociatives are relatively new and unregulated, they do not come with recommended dosages or labeling. This lack of oversight has led to the development of a constantly changing array of compounds with uncertain effects. As a result, it is important for individuals to exercise caution and to seek medical attention immediately if they experience any adverse effects after using a dissociative. 
Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant, which has sparked interest in their potential uses for medical conditions and adverse health effects. However, the FDA has only approved one cannabis-derived drug product and three synthetic cannabis-related drug products. These approved drug products are available with a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider. Importantly, no other cannabis, cannabis-derived, or cannabidiol (CBD) products are currently approved by the FDA, meaning that their safety and efficacy have not been evaluated by the agency.
In Europe, there has been a surge in new psychoactive substances (NPS) which are often mislabeled as “research chemicals” or “not for human consumption” to evade legal restrictions, and are sold widely on the internet and in other places. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has identified synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones as the most common types of NPS. These substances can cause various side effects, including hallucinations, cardiovascular issues, and psychiatric disorders, which can be difficult to diagnose. Physicians should be aware of the effects of NPS and perform targeted toxicological analyses to diagnose their effects.
Cannabinoids and NPS are both classified as synthetic drugs and research chemicals, which are substances that are not intended for human consumption but are often used recreationally. Synthetic drugs are created in a laboratory, while research chemicals are experimental substances from medical research and their derivatives. These substances can be classified as sedatives, stimulants, or hallucinogens based on their major effects or chemical structures. Although some synthetic compounds may occur naturally in the plant, others are entirely synthetically derived. However, the use of unapproved cannabinoid and research chemical products can have unpredictable and unintended consequences, including serious safety risks.
Despite the potential adverse effects of synthetic drugs and research chemicals, there has been increasing interest in their potential uses for medical conditions. The FDA has several programs designed to facilitate the development and approval of drug products for patients with unmet medical needs, including Fast Track, Breakthrough Therapy, Accelerated Approval, and Priority Review. Additionally, the FDA’s expanded access provisions facilitate the availability of investigational products to patients with serious diseases or conditions where there are no comparable or satisfactory alternative therapies available. By following proper research protocols and regulations, synthetic drugs and research chemicals may have the potential to provide new treatment options for patients in need. 
2. Legal loopholes and labeling: why synthetic drugs are dangerous
Legal loopholes and labeling: why synthetic drugs are dangerous
Synthetic drugs, also known as research chemicals, are substances created to mimic the effects of illegal drugs. These chemicals are sold online and in stores as “legal highs,” exploiting legal loopholes. However, they are not safe for consumption and often come with dangerous side effects. The labeling can also be misleading, with some products falsely claiming to be safe and natural. This lack of regulation and oversight can have serious consequences for those who consume synthetic drugs.
Those who choose to use synthetic drugs put themselves at risk of experiencing adverse reactions such as seizures, heart attacks, and strokes. This is because the chemicals used in synthetic drugs can be highly potent and unpredictable. Additionally, these substances are often combined with other drugs, which can result in dangerous interactions. The fact that synthetic drugs are not regulated means that consumers have no way of knowing what they are ingesting. Moreover, the inconsistency in product quality can result in varying levels of potency, making it difficult to determine how much of the substance to consume.
Mislabeling of synthetic drugs is an issue that contributes to their danger. Many products marketed as “legal highs” or “research chemicals” are labeled as safe and natural, despite containing dangerous chemicals. The use of names that sound similar to illegal drugs, such as “bath salts” or “spice,” can also be misleading. This can lead to a false sense of security among users, who may underestimate the risks associated with the substance they are using. Authorities are struggling to keep up with the ever-changing market of synthetic drugs, making it difficult to regulate the industry and keep consumers safe.
In conclusion, synthetic drugs are a dangerous and unpredictable industry, fueled by legal loopholes and a lack of regulation. Labeling can be misleading, and consumers often have no way of knowing what they are ingesting. Those who choose to use synthetic drugs put themselves at risk of experiencing harmful side effects that could result in serious injury or death. It is important to raise awareness about the dangers of synthetic drugs and work towards creating a safe and regulated environment for drug use.
3. Over 100 different types of synthetic drugs: examples and effects
Over 100 different types of synthetic drugs are available, and each one has its unique effects. Synthetic cathinone, commonly known as bath salts, mimics the effects of cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. This central nervous stimulant is sold under different names such as research chemicals, plant food, and bath salts. The synthetic drug can cause erratic behavior, hallucinations, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
Another type of synthetic drug is dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressant found in over 120 over-the-counter cold medications. This drug is used to produce euphoria and hallucinations when taken in large doses. DXM can cause a burning sensation in the stomach, nausea, and increased skin sensitivity. More research is needed to determine whether DXM is addictive or not.
Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid drug that is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine. It is usually used as an analgesic and anesthetic. Fentanyl can cause reduced breathing, which can lead to death. The DEA reports that criminal drug networks are producing fake pills that contain fentanyl or methamphetamine and falsely marketing them as legitimate prescription pills. The fake pills are made to look like prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and alprazolam or stimulants like amphetamines. 
4. Synthetic cannabinoids: K2 and Spice
Synthetic cannabinoids, such as K2 and Spice, are designer drugs marketed as safe legal alternatives to marijuana. They are mind-altering chemicals that can be smoked or vaporized and inhaled through e-cigarettes and other devices. These products are often labeled as not for human consumption and contain naturally dried plant material mixed with cannabinoid compounds made in laboratories. The actual effects can be unpredictable and even life-threatening. Synthetic cannabinoids produce some effects similar to marijuana, including altered perception, elevated mood, and relaxation. However, they can also cause extreme anxiety, confusion, and detachment from reality.
Apart from the well-known effects of synthetic cannabinoids, users have shown severe health effects, including rapid heart rate, vomiting, violent behavior, and suicidal thoughts. Synthetic cannabinoids are addictive, and regular users often experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, and depression when trying to quit. The chemical composition of these products is unknown and varies from batch to batch, which can cause substances to produce dramatically different effects than expected.
Synthetic cannabinoids bind more strongly than marijuana to the same brain cell receptors affected by THC, producing stronger effects. Still, few scientific studies have been conducted on their effects on the human brain. The belief that synthetic cannabinoids are natural and harmless contributes to their use among young people. Standard drug tests cannot easily detect many of the chemicals used in these products. Manufacturers sell them in colorful foil packages and plastic bottles under specific brand names, easily accessible in drug paraphernalia shops, novelty stores, gas stations, and over the internet.
State public health and poison centers have issued warnings regarding the adverse health effects associated with the abuse of synthetic cannabinoids. The adverse effects included tachycardia (elevated heart rate), elevated blood pressure, tremors, seizures, hallucinations, agitation, anxiety, pallor, numbness, and tingling. Healthcare providers should screen patients for possible co-occurring mental health conditions. Synthetic cannabinoids are unregulated mind-altering substances that have become newly available on the market and are intended to produce the same effects as illegal drugs. 
5. Bath salts: methylone, mephedrone, and MDPV
Bath salts are a type of research chemical that has gained popularity in recent years. They are typically sold as designer drugs and contain psychoactive cathinone such as methylone, mephedrone, and MDPV. These substances are known to have powerful effects on the brain, similar to cocaine. MDPV, in particular, has been found to block the uptake of dopamine in the brain and increase its transmission, leading to potential serious abuse and adverse effects. Mephedrone and methylone have also been reported to have similar effects on the brain, and their detailed pharmacology is still unknown. 
6. DMT: Blue Mystic, Nexus, Foxy, and AMT
DMT is a powerful psychoactive drug that can produce intense hallucinations and is often consumed by young people in club and rave scenes. It is sold under various names like Blue Mystic, Nexus, Foxy, and AMT. Despite its illicit use, DMT has a long history of licit use for spiritual and medicinal purposes. The effects of DMT are similar to those experienced with mescaline or LSD, causing a distortion of sensations and a stimulating increase in energy and focus. However, its use can lead to negative health outcomes, including frightening hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, and disorientation. 
7. Molly: altered perceptions and distorted sensations
Molly is a synthetic drug that alters a person’s mental, emotional, and physical perceptions. It distorts sensations, acts as a stimulant, and increases energy and focus. The drug is abused for similar reasons as DMT, producing a powerful high. Unfortunately, most of the Molly that is sold on the black market barely contains MDMA, the active ingredient users seek to abuse. Instead, the drug is often made up of other dangerous synthetic chemicals that can cause altered perceptions and distorted sensations.
Furthermore, synthetic drugs and research chemicals are often sold online or in gas stations and convenience stores as a legal way to get high. They include things like jewelry cleaners, plant food, and research chemicals. These substances are made overseas and shipped to the U.S. Many are untested and can have unpredictable effects that can be incredibly dangerous. Synthetic drugs and research chemicals were first reported to the U.S. authorities in late 2008 when a batch of the substance Spice or synthetic marijuana was confiscated and analyzed in Ohio.
Some common types of synthetic drugs and research chemicals that are abused today include both stimulant-type substances and synthetic cannabinoids. K2 and Spice, also known as fake marijuana, are comprised of many different chemical compounds and have a potency of 100 times stronger than natural marijuana. Bath salts or synthetic cathinone are stimulant-like substances that can produce effects similar to those experienced with cocaine but much stronger.
Finally, it is important to recognize the dangers associated with these synthetic drugs and research chemicals. They can produce more than just euphoria and can have dire consequences. For parents and loved ones, it is crucial to know what these chemicals are, how to recognize them, and what help is available for those who abuse them. It is also important to note that many of these drugs are illegal, and researchers do not consider any amount of use safe. 
9. Balancing the need for research with potential harm
Research chemicals are substances that are primarily used in scientific research and experimentation. They have a wide range of uses, including as reagents in laboratory experiments, medicinal treatments, and even agricultural applications. However, due to the potential for harm and abuse, their use is often tightly regulated by governments and research institutions.
One of the most popular types of research chemicals is synthetic cannabinoids, which are often marketed as legal alternatives to marijuana. Despite being sold as “safe” and “natural,” these substances can have serious health consequences, including agitation, psychosis, and cardiovascular problems. Many countries have now banned the production and sale of synthetic cannabinoids due to their potential harm.
Another common category of research chemicals is synthetic cathinone, which is often sold as “bath salts.” These substances mimic the effects of stimulant drugs like cocaine and amphetamines and can cause a range of negative consequences, including psychosis, paranoia, and heart problems. In extreme cases, bath salts use can even lead to death.
While research chemicals can be incredibly useful tools for scientific advancement, the potential for harm is always a concern. It’s important to balance the need for innovative research with a focus on safety and to carefully regulate the production and distribution of these substances to minimize the risks to the public. 
10. The role of education and prevention in combating research chemicals abuse
Research chemicals have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their availability and their potential for psychoactive effects. Synthetic stimulants, such as bath salts, have taken the market by storm, whilst benzodiazepines and opioids also remain widely used. However, the misuse of these drugs can lead to serious health risks, including addiction and even death.
One vital aspect of combating the abuse of research chemicals is education and prevention. Informing individuals about the risks associated with the use of these substances is essential in reducing their misuse and preventing addiction. Education should start at an early age and should utilize a variety of mediums, including television, the Internet, and educational materials. It is essential to ensure that all individuals are equipped with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about their health and well-being.
In order to further prevent the abuse of research chemicals, it is important to put in place strict regulations governing the production, distribution, and sale of these substances. This includes ensuring that research chemicals are classified as controlled substances and that penalties for those who engage in their illegal trade are harsh. Governments should also work closely with health professionals to ensure that accurate information is disseminated, and that best practices are developed and implemented to reduce the risks and harms associated with the use of research chemicals.
Effective prevention must also take a holistic approach to address the social and environmental factors that contribute to research chemical abuse. This may include improving access to health and social services, reducing poverty and inequality, addressing mental health concerns, providing safe recreational spaces, and working to reduce the stigma that can be attached to substance abuse. By combining these strategies, it is possible to create an environment in which individuals are empowered to make informed decisions regarding their health and well-being.
Ultimately, the prevention of research chemical abuse is a shared responsibility that requires cooperation between individuals, communities, governments, and health professionals. By working together, it is possible to promote safe and responsible use of substances, whilst also reducing the risks and harms associated with their misuse.