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Research Chemicals

How Research Chemicals Work

Grinding research chemicals with a mortar and pestle.In order to make research chemicals, drug dealers examine the chemical structure of known drugs like ecstasy and LSD. Then, they put the same raw materials used to make these drugs through a series of chemical reactions, hoping to create a drug that’s just a little bit different. That difference could deliver a different experience, and it also might help the dealer to evade drug-banning laws.

There are literally thousands of research chemicals out there, and in most cases, people who take these drugs are aware of the fact that they’re working as human guinea pigs for the drug manufacturers. As one user interviewed for High Times put it, those who take these drugs work hard to share their experiences with others, and they read up on the experiences of others, too. They know the drugs aren’t tested, and they seem to relish the idea that they’re doing cutting-edge research themselves.

An overview article in Clinical Toxicology suggests that these drugs are often marketed as “legal highs,” and there’s little clinical research on what these drugs are and what they do. Experts continue to comb through user reports and case studies concerning people who took these drugs, and as a result, medical teams have developed some broad outlines of these drugs and their effects.

Common Research Chemicals

It’s difficult to provide a comprehensive list of all the research chemicals available to users, as new formulations are being developed every single day in laboratories scattered all around the world.

To make things easier, researchers have separated research chemicals into four broad categories, based on their active ingredients.

  1. Tryptamine drugs produce effects similar to those felt by people who take LSD. Users tend to report hallucinations, euphoria, and a sense of empathy. But the sensations users can experience are dose-dependent and user-dependent, meaning that some people can and do have “bad trips” on these drugs that might involve paranoia, violence, and terror. Common names for these drugs include:
    • DET
    • AWR
    • Bufotenin
    • AMT (or “spirals”)
    • Foxy
  1. Phenethylamine drugs are also psychoactive, meaning that users taking these drugs also experience hallucinations and euphoria. But this classification of drug is also known to produce jaw-clenching symptoms and muscle rigidity. In some cases, these symptoms can be life-threatening. Common names for these drugs include:
    • 2C-I
    • 2C-B
    • 2C-T
    • 2C-3
  1. Piperazine drugs produce MDMA-like symptoms, but the sensations tend to feel mild. While people who take MDMA might feel overwhelmed with sensations, they might feel only subtle changes with these piperazine drugs. But the sensations can persist for a very long period of time, and some people feel sleepless and nauseated on these drugs. Common names include BZP and TFMPP.
  1. Piperidine drugs are also hallucinogenic drugs, but there’s very little data available about how these drugs work and what they’re intended to do. Common names include 4-PMPD and 4-Benzylpiperidine, and 2-DPMP.

What Research Chemicals Look Like and How They’re Used

The Australian Drug Foundation reports that there are about 450 types of research chemicals available to drug users, and they’re all packaged a little differently and can look a little different, too.

In general, however, research chemicals are sold as powders in formal-looking packages. Those packages rarely contain any kind of dosing information or ingredient list. Instead, the packages might say things like: “For official use only” or “Not for amateur consumption.”

Teens can purchase these drugs online, often for very low prices, and they might stash them in secret or out-of-the-way places. Toes of shoes, pockets of formal clothing, deep corners of closets, and dusky rafters of basements might all be excellent hiding places for teens with a penchant for research chemicals. In a study of 42 teens who took research chemicals published in the journal Substance Use and Misuse, researchers found that the drug use was infrequent, and that it often took place at concerts or raves. That means teens who use these drugs may not use them at home. They may just stash them and store them at home until it’s time for the next concert.However, these drugs can cause changes that last for eight hours or longer, which means drug-using teens could still be altered when they arrive home after an event. A teen using these drugs might seem overly affectionate with parents and siblings, willing to hug and kiss others, even though that’s not something the teen might do while sober. Teens on these drugs might also have wide pupils, sweaty skin, and rigid muscles.

Crushing a research chemical pill on a cutting board.

What to Do

When a teen is high on research chemicals, it’s hard to have a rational discussion about drug use. The teen just might be incapable of thinking clearly and making smart decisions. That’s why it’s best for parents to monitor their high teens for health purposes, and when those teens are sober once more, open up the discussion about drug use and addiction.

Since researchers don’t know a lot about research chemicals, they’re not sure how often these drugs are associated with abuse and/or addiction. Some teens do develop symptoms of compulsive use, while others seem able to quit with the help of parents.

A teen with a research chemical issue can benefit from an evaluation from an addiction expert, such as those available at Next Generation Village. Lab work, psychosocial examinations, and in-person interviews can help the family develop a clear picture of the teen’s drug use, and the family can use that data to pull together a treatment program that can really help.

Families interested in this assistance can call the number on this page to speak with an admissions specialist.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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