The 6 most dangerous synthetic drugs on the market

A look at the most dangerous synthetic drugs used by kids in America from insider, former DEA agent, Warren Rivera. More on the risks and how parents can help prevent synthetic drug abuse here.

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Reviewed by: Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D.

Synthetic drugs are dangerous man-made drugs created to mimic the effect of controlled substances. These drugs come in different forms such as:

  • herbs
  • liquids
  • pills
  • powders

Overdose deaths from synthetic drug abuse are becoming more prevalent in our country, particularly among the younger generation. People who abuse synthetic drugs are putting themselves at grave risk because they do not know the origin or chemical makeup of the drug and may often overdose and die from a single dose.

So, what are the most dangerous synthetic drugs currently in use? What are the relative risks of using them? More here, with a section at the end for your questions or comments.

What are synthetic drugs?

Synthetic drugs are man-made drugs created to mimic the effects of controlled substances. Most of the synthetic drugs are manufactured in clandestine laboratories in China. The substances are then smuggled in bulk into the United States and packaged for individual sale.

Synthetic Drugs are often sold in convenience stores or on the street in colorful packaging with catchy names to appeal to the younger generation. The drugs are also illegally distributed in shops that sell drug paraphernalia and over the Internet.

DRUG 1: Synthetic marijuana

One of the most commonly used synthetic drugs in the United States is synthetic cannabinoids. Synthetic cannabinoids are also commonly known as “Spice” and “K2”. These chemicals are synthesized in clandestine laboratories to simulate the biological effects of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Spice is often referred to as synthetic marijuana because it is sold as a plant material that looks similar to ground marijuana. During preparation, the herb-like material is sprayed with dangerous chemicals, which are ultimately ingested by the user when smoking the substance.

However, in March 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) temporarily placed five synthetic chemicals sprayed onto plant material into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

1. JWH-018
2. JWH-073
3. JWH-200
4. CP-47, 497
5. cannabicyclohexanol

Still, drug traffickers will use any chemical substance at their disposal to manufacture these drugs, regardless of their toxicity.
Some common street names for Spice and K2 are:

  • Bliss
  • Black Mamba
  • Fake Weed
  • Genie
  • Mojo
  • Scooby Snax
  • Zohai

The packaging for synthetic drugs is typically labeled with the warning, “Not for Human Consumption.” This is deliberately printed to benefit of the vendor, in an attempt to provide protection from criminal prosecution. Websites market and sell Spice and K2 as incense, but they are actually sold specifically with the intent of human ingestion for getting people high.

DRUG 2: Bath salts or cathinones

Cathinones, also commonly known as “bath salts”, can produce pharmacological effects similar to MDMA (Ecstasy), methamphetamine and cocaine. Synthetic cathinones are usually in powder or crystal form and are ingested by snorting or swallowing the substance. Negative side effects of synthetic cathinone use include:

  • heart attack
  • kidney and liver failure
  • paranoia
  • panic attacks
  • abnormal breakdown of muscle tissue

Cathinones are typically manufactured in clandestinely laboratories in China and smuggled into the U.S. Bath salts are then sold over the internet or in convenience stores. The packaging is colorful with catchy names to appeal to the younger generation. Some brand names of bath salts are “Ivory Wave”, “Red Dove”, “Zoom”, “Vanilla Sky”, “White Lightning”, “Scarface” and “Hurricane Charlie”. These drugs contain amphetamine-like chemicals such as MPDV (methylenedioxypryrovalerone), mephedrone, and pyrovalerone.

DRUG 3: Fentanyl

There is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved version of fentanyl sold and legally administered by physicians in the United States. Fentanyl is the most potent pain killer available for use in medical treatment. Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is principally used to treat severe pain in cancer patients and is used as an anesthetic during surgery.

On March 18, 2015, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) issued a nationwide alert on fentanyl as a threat to health and public safety. Fentanyl is a dangerous, powerful Schedule II narcotic responsible for an epidemic of overdose deaths within the United States. During the last two years, the distribution of clandestinely manufactured fentanyl has been linked to an unprecedented outbreak of thousands of overdoses and deaths.

The overdoses are occurring at such an alarming rate, DEA issued an officer safety alert for law enforcement. Just touching fentanyl or accidentally inhaling the substance during enforcement activity or while field testing the substance can result in absorption through the skin. This is one of the biggest dangers law enforcement face with fentanyl. The onset of adverse health effects is very rapid and profound, usually occurring within minutes of exposure. These can include:

  • coughing
  • disorientation
  • respiratory distress or cardiac arrest
  • sedation

While the FDA approved fentanyl continues to be illegally diverted into the hands of addicts, other synthetic versions of fentanyl are becoming more common and are causing havoc in the heroin community. Heroin users are unsuspectingly using heroin laced with fentanyl and are dying at alarming rates from overdoses throughout the U.S. Drug traffickers add synthetic fentanyl to heroin to increase its potency and ultimately increase sales and demand for the product.

The dangers of acetyl fentanyl

The most common version of clandestinely produced fentanyl is acetyl fentanyl which is an analogue of fentanyl, meaning it is chemically or pharmacologically similar to the FDA approved fentanyl. According to the DEA, acetyl fentanyl can be as much as 80 times more potent than morphine and 5-15 times more potent than heroin. This drug is likely to contain other unknown contaminants that can be fatal when consumed.

There is no existing sanctioned or authorized use for acetyl fentanyl. It is commonly produced in clandestine laboratories in China and Mexico and is commonly referred to on the street as “China-White”. Acetyl fentanyl is usually an off-white power but may be sold in pill form to mimic the appearance of an oxycodone pain pill. Addicts who purchase oxycodone pills on the street may actually be buying and consuming fentanyl which is causing an explosion of overdose deaths throughout the country. Acetyl fentanyl sold in pill form is usually taken orally or crushed and administered intravenously with a hypodermic needle and syringe.


LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, was a commonly abused hallucinogen in the 1960’s and is commonly referred to as “Acid”. It is distributed in small tablets, capsules or gelatin squares known as “window panes”. It is often sold on absorbent paper which is then divided into small squares decorated with designs or cartoon characters. It can be administered orally, intravenously or sublingually (dissolved under the tongue).

LSD users may experience severe anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks occur during what are referred to as “bad trips”. Since the drug alters perception, users may engage in dangerous behavior and harm themselves, being unable to differentiate between their imaginations and reality. LSD abuse has declined over the years and although still available from drug traffickers, it is less popular than other synthetic drugs.

DRUG 5: Molly

Molly is a synthetic drug marketed as MDMA or Ecstasy. According to the DEA, only 13% of the Molly sold in the U.S. actually contains any MDMA. Molly is sold as a powder or in pill form and is ingested orally or by inhalation. The drug acts as a hallucinogen or stimulant.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, use of Molly or MDMA can cause increased heart rate, heavy sweating, teeth clenching, chills and in some cases, a sharp increase in body temperature that can lead to organ failure and death.

DRUG 6: Is N-BOMe the most dangerous synthetic drug?

It would be difficult to pinpoint the absolute most dangerous synthetic drug because any synthetic drug may result in death from just one experimental use. However, N-BOMe, commonly referred to as “N-Bomb” or “Smiles”, is certainly one of the most deadly synthetic drugs being sold on the street. Doses as small as a few grains of table salt can result in death. N-BOMe is so toxic that law enforcement officers are required to wear masks, gloves and glasses when handling the drug to avoid toxic exposure and possible fatalities during drug arrests involving this drug.

N-BOMe is a powerful synthetic hallucinogen sold as an alternative to LSD or mescaline (a hallucinogenic drug made from a cactus plant). There are several variations of this drug, but 25I-NBOMe, often shortened to “25I”, is its most abused and potent form. Effects of only a tiny amount can last for up to 12 hours or longer.

N-bomb is sold in liquid or powder form or on soaked blotter paper similar to how LSD is sold. It has a strong bitter metallic taste, and some dealers add mint or fruit flavoring to make ingestion more tolerable. It is administered by injection, smoking the substance, sublingually, or by inhaling it. Drug traffickers often sell N-BOMe as LSD, when in fact, it is a completely different drug.

What can parents do to prevent their children from abusing synthetics drugs?

1. Parents should monitor their children’s behavior and have conversations with their children about the dangers of synthetic drugs. Communication and education are the foundation for prevention.

2. Parents can utilize websites and refer their children to websites such as This website shares tragic stories about parents who lost their children to drug overdoses.

3. Parents should monitor their children when making any online purchases, or buying items from local convenience stores.

4. If you discover packets of synthetic drugs, you should question where they were purchased and turn the substances over to local authorities.
The dangers of synthetic drugs cannot be overstated to children and the key is to prevent experimental use before it occurs. This can be accomplished through an open line of communication between parents and their children.

About the Author: If you like to learn more about how to prevent the diversion of pharmaceuticals or would like to receive training from retired DEA Special Agent and drug diversion expert W. Rivera, please visit the website or
About the author
Warren Rivera is a retired Assistant Special Agent in Charge from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Rivera is an experienced public speaker, trainer and an expert in the diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances. Mr. Rivera currently owns Training Idea, LLC, a private consulting firm that provides training on DEA matters to the healthcare industry, law enforcement and the community.
Medical Reviewers
Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS serves as the Chief Medical Officer of the Texas Healt...
Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D. is a general surgeon practicing women's focused medici...

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.

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