When most people think about drugs they usually consider substances like heroin, cocaine and cannabis. These substances have been around for a long time, and most people have an idea of their effects.

But in the past few decades, illicit manufacturers have begun producing a range of novel drugs. These drugs come with their own effects and risks. 

In this blog, we explore what they are, what they do, and how you can get help if you become addicted to one of these substances.

Synthetic Drugs in Australia

What are Novel Synthetic Drugs?

Novel synthetic drugs are narcotics which have only recently started being manufactured. The reason for their creation tends to fall into one of two categories – the first is that they mimic the effects of a similar drug while also being legal, like synthetic cathinones around 2010 before they were banned in much of the world.

The second category of synthetic drugs is those which are manufactured because they are more potent and less expensive than traditional drugs, meaning greater profits for producers and distributors. Fentanyl is an example of this. Illicit manufacturers started producing fentanyl in great quantities in China in the 1990s and it is now used more widely than heroin.

While heroin must be cultivated from opium poppies, the process for fentanyl is entirely synthetic, meaning that it can be manufactured entirely in a laboratory.

In many countries, regulators play “whack a mole” with these synthetic drugs, as whenever one is banned, manufacturers change the chemical formula slightly, creating another drug which regulators must then criminalise.

This is not the case in Australia, where blanket bans on possessing or selling substances that have a psychoactive effect are in place in most jurisdictions. Commonwealth laws also ban substances with psychoactive effects that are not otherwise covered by existing legislation.

Types of Synthetic Drugs in Australia

These are the most commonly found synthetic drugs in Australia. All of these substances can cause significant harm and addiction.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

These drugs mimic the effects of THC, which is one of the active ingredients in cannabis. These products tend to contain the chemical JWH-018, but other synthetic cannabinoids including JWH-073; JWH-200; JWH-250; AM-2201, RCS-4 and SCP 47,497 may be found in synthetic cannabinoid products.

Typically these chemicals are sprayed on plant matter which looks somewhat similar to cannabis. These synthetic drugs in Australia can cause addiction and immense harm. While the chemicals in cannabis only partially bind to cb1r AND CB2r receptors, synthetic cannabinoids are full agonists, which may explain the extreme side effects reported by some people.

The most common street name for these substances is “spice”. Spice is now one of the more popular drugs in prisons in Australia, and it is common for inmates to become hooked while they are serving their sentences.

Synthetic Opioids

These are opioids which mimic the effects of opioids such as heroin. While heroin is itself a very dangerous substance, synthetic opioids can kill in much smaller quantities. The LD50 (amount that kills 50% of the population) of fentanyl is only 2 to 3 milligrams when administered intravenously. 

Fentanyl and similar opioids are the reason for the enormous rise in overdose deaths in countries like the United States and Canada in recent years. Fortunately, novel synthetic opioids are not commonly found in Australia, and so overdose rates remain much lower than in some other countries.

Many synthetic opioids, such as carfentanil, are closely related to fentanyl, sharing a similar chemical composition. These opioids usually have a similar level of potency as fentanyl.

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Synthetic Hallucinogens

These substances mimic the effects of psychedelics such as LSD and mushrooms. Synthetic drugs like in Australia include substances like 2C-B, 2C-C and 2C-D. The most popular synthetic hallucinogen in Australia is probably 2C-B, though there are countless others for sale. Synthetic hallucinogens vary in effect and potency. Some of the more powerful synthetic hallucinogens, such as Bromo-DragonFLY, are far more dangerous than traditional hallucinogens and can be fatal in minute amounts. Many users have overdosed in the past by taking a substance such as Bromo-DragonFLY, believing it to be one of the less potent synthetic hallucinogens. Occasionally a substance which is sold as a traditional hallucinogen is in reality a novel hallucinogen. 4-AcO-DMT is sometimes sold to users as psilocybin mushrooms.

Synthetic Cathinones (Bath Salts)

Cathinones are stimulants which are often similar in effect to amphetamines and MDMA. They come in powder or crystal and are ingested, inhaled or injected. Cathinones were particularly popular in Australia from 2010-2015.  Of the cathinones, mephedrone was the most popular. It gives users feelings of euphoria and alertness, which can soon turn to paranoia, anxiety and untoward cardiovascular events. Cathinones lost popularity in 2015 when they were made illegal in Australia. Users of these drugs then gravitated back to more traditional drugs such as MDMA, methamphetamine and cocaine.

Addiction to Synthetic Drugs in Australia

The Cabin Chiang Mai The Cabin regularly receives clients who are addicted to synthetic drugs, both at our outpatient drug treatment centre in Sydney and at our inpatient treatment centre in Chiang Mai. Addiction happens in much the same way as other drugs, with users typically beginning their use of these substances recreationally, before becoming dependent and ultimately addicted. The Cabin Chiang Mai Treatment Medical Detox Once someone is addicted to one of these drugs it can be impossible for them to stop using by themselves, as the fear of withdrawal is too awful for them to quit. At our centres, we offer Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), which allows those who are using synthetic drugs to come down slowly and safely from these substances. We find that using MAT eliminates most of the pain caused by withdrawal. We also treat mental health problems that have been triggered as a result of these substances and offer treatment for those who require dual diagnosis treatment for combined addiction and mental health. For more information on what we do at The Cabin, contact us today at 1 800 251 994.

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