Some “designer drugs” may be in a legal gray area, but their actions on the brain are similar to those of illegal drugs and could be just as dangerous, new research suggests.
“It’s important to know what the drugs are doing in the brain so we can learn about long-term adverse effects, but it can also help to develop strategies for remediation of symptoms of overdose,” study researcher Michael Baumann, of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told LiveScience. “It’s important that each of these designer drugs is examined carefully, because each one of them has unique pharmacology,” and therefore unique effects.
The researchers studied two popular designer drugs, mephedrone and methylone, analogs of cathinone, a drug found in the plant Catha edulis. The drugs entered the drug scene in the 2000s with innocuous names like “bath salts” or “plant food.” These drugs originally fell into a legal gray area because they weren’t specifically regulated on a federal level, but in October 2011 they were temporarily classified as illegal, schedule one drugs.