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Uncharted Waters: Navigating the Madness of Designer Drugs, Part II

Uncharted Waters: Navigating the Madness of Designer Drugs, Part II

In my previous column I began discussing designer drugs and provided an overview of the first five in a list of ten. This column will conclude the list of today’s most frequently used and popular designer drugs. 


Meow Meow (Mephedrone) 


Meow Meow is a synthetic cathinone that is derived from khat.


According to The Washington Post, first synthesized in 1929, Meow Meow is “a relative newcomer to the recreational-drug pantheon” (Guarino, 2016). The journal Lancet noted that it appeared in London around 2007. Mephedrone has so far mostly thrived in Europe, particularly at British raves. Although it was banned in the UK in 2010, “by 2015 it was responsible for thirty-four deaths, up from twenty-two in 2014” (Guarino, 2016). In November 2011 mephedrone was categorized as a DEA Schedule I drug in the United States. 


Meow Meow falls under a category known as “chemsex” along with GHB and methamphetamine. “Chemsex refers to gay or bisexual men using drugs to facilitate sex with other men . . . It’s important to note that it’s distinct from drug use which later leads to sexual activity: chemsex is where men take a certain drug or drugs because they are about to have sex” (Speed, 2016). 


Mexxy (Methoxetamine)


Mexxy is a new designer drug often taken for its hallucinogenic and dissociative effects. It is a chemical analogue of ketamine and the much stronger PCP, both classified as dissociative anesthetics. Street names include “MXE” and “rolfcoptor” and it is sold as pellets or as a powder that is either snorted or injected. The packaging often reads “research chemical” and “not for human consumption.” 


According to the Huffington Post UK, mexxy “is the first so-called ‘legal high’ to be banned temporarily [in the UK] under Home Office powers which can restrict a substance for up to twelve months while it is decided whether it should be made completely illegal” (Rickman, 2012). Mexxy has been sold since 2010 and is popular on the European club scene. The drug is relatively new to the recreational drug culture in the United States. 


Distortion or loss of sensory perceptions, dissociation of mind and body, and agitation have been reported. 


K2/Spice (JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200)


K2 or Spice is about ten times more potent than naturally occurring THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient.


Clemson University’s John W. Huffman created the first synthetic cannabinoids in 1995. These were made for experimental purposes but were diverted to Europe around 2004 as the brand “Spice.” In 2009 Spice and K2 became popular in Canada and the US. 


According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 


From January 1 to March 31, 2016, poison centers received reports of 862 exposures to synthetic cannabinoids, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Poison centers received 2,668 calls about exposures to these drugs in 2013, 3,682 exposures in 2014, and 7,779 exposures in 2015. 

Synthetic cannabinoids are very different from marijuana. They can cause dangerous health effects, including severe agitation and anxiety; muscle spasms, seizures, and tremors; intense hallucinations and psychotic episodes; and suicidal and other harmful thoughts and/or actions (“Fifteen people,” 2016).


N-Bomb (2C-1, 251-NBOMe, 25C-NBOMe, 25B-NBOMe)


Also called “smiles,” the drug “is derived from mescaline, which occurs naturally in peyote cactus. The technical name of the substance is phenethylamine” (Prince, 2013). N-Bomb is sold as LSD (legal acid) or mescaline, usually in white powder form that can be snorted. It can be melted into chocolate candy, but can also be taken as a tablet, breath mint or drops.


According to an article on Heavy.com, 


2C-I-NBOMe is a derivative of the substituted phenethylamine psychedelic 2C-I, discovered in 2003 by Ralf Heim at the Free University of Berlin, and subsequently investigated by a team at Purdue University led by David Nichols. The chemical had no history of human use prior to being sold online as a designer drug in 2010 (Prince, 2013). 


N-bomb creates a hallucinogenic effect similar to LSD at extremely small dosages. Users report the negative effects and after-effects of the drug are worse than that of LSD or MDMA. It also mimics the effects of methamphetamine. It can cause irregular heartbeat, seizures, and foaming at the mouth. Effects of only a tiny amount of the drug can last for up to twelve hours or longer (FDFW, 2016). 


NRG-1 (Naphyrone, O-2482, naphthylpyrovalerone) 


Naphyrone, a cathinone derivative, is a stimulant drug sold as a white crystalline powder often called “NRG-1” or “Energy1.” The drug is consumed either by sniffing the powder or swallowing it wrapped in a cigarette paper, a technique known as “bombing.” 


NRG-1 is chemically related to pyrovalerone, once prescribed to treat lethargy and fatigue but discontinued because of concerns over potential misuse. NRG-1 emerged as a new legal high in the UK only months after the ban of mephedrone, a similar cathinone derivative. 


Effects of cathinones are euphoria, talkativeness, alertness, and feelings of empathy. Anecdotal reports of naphyrone indicate it can remain in the body for long periods and since it is a reuptake inhibitor of serotonin (implicated in body heat regulation) body temperatures can soar upwards of 107–108 degrees. Naphyrone has been found to be in molly (MDMA). 




This is a new synthetic opiate believed to be one hundred times more powerful than fentanyl. Although it was developed decades ago as an experimental pain reliever, the most recent batch appears to have been manufactured in China.


According to an article on FoxNews.com, 


Scientists at the University of Alberta developed W-18 in the 1980s as a potential painkiller. The drug is included in the “W” series, which ran from W-1 to W-32, and was used mainly for research. 


The CBC notes W-18 is the most powerful of the thirty-two in the series. No tests are available to detect it in urine or blood, which means it may already be taking an unknown toll on users if it’s being cut into other drugs—and perhaps are at least partly responsible for the escalating deaths attributed to heroin (Johnson, 2016). 


This drug may be the deadliest of the bunch. W-18 is extremely dangerous as it depresses the central nervous system causing blood pressure to drop and heart rate and respiration to slow. 




We are in unchartered waters. Prevention and treatment have become more difficult as global chemists alter chemical structures, designing newer versions of older drugs. Users are ignorant of the effects and long-term consequences. Mental health and addiction professionals struggle to develop treatment strategies. Although there is cause for concern, education may be the first step in dealing with this crisis.





“Fifteen people in Los Angeles hospitalized after using synthetic marijuana.” (2016). Retrieved from http://www.drugfree.org/join-together/15-people-los-angeles-hospitalized-using-synthetic-marijuana/
Foundation for a Drug-Free World (FDFW). (2016). What is N-Bomb? Retrieved from http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/synthetic/what-is-n-bomb.html
Guarino, B. (2016). The ‘chemsex’ scene: An increasingly popular and sometimes lethal public-health problem. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/10/the-chemsex-scene-an-increasingly-popular-and-occasionally-lethal-public-health-problem/
Johnson, J. (2016). There’s a new street drug with crazy potency emerging. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/health/2016/04/22/theres-new-street-drug-with-crazy-potency-emerging.html 
Prince, S. J. (2013). N-Bomb killer designer drug: Top ten facts you need to know. Retrieved from http://heavy.com/news/2013/05/n-bomb-killer-designer-drug-top-10-facts-you-need-to-know/
Rickman, D. (2012). Mexxy, drug like ketamine, can produce ‘weird out of body effects.’ Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/03/28/what-is-mexxy-methoxetamine-ketamine-legal-high-home-office_n_1384521.html
Speed, B. (2016). What is chemsex? And how worried should we be? NewStatesMan. Retrieved from http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/health/2016/04/what-chemsex-and-how-worried-should-we-be