Particularly popular in the young adult and adolescent crowd, synthetic and designer drugs often come in brightly wrapped packages and can be bought online. These drugs may appear harmless and are commonly used as “club” or “party” drugs and at raves.
The Global Information Network About Drugs (GINAD) reports that designer drugs, which are typically drugs manufactured in an illegal laboratory and meant to simulate other illicit drugs, are most commonly used by people between the ages of 21 and 30. A synthetic drug generally refers to a drug that may have evolved from a plant and whose properties have been chemically altered.
Between 2010 and 2014, CNN reports that more than 300 designer, and/or synthetic drugs have been identified in the United States. One of these drugs, 2C-E (4-ethyl-2,5-dimethoxy-4-phenethylamine), is considered a designer hallucinogenic drug that may mimic LSD or ecstasy. The journal Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings publishes that at low doses 2C-E may be a central nervous system stimulant, while at higher doses, it has psychoactive and hallucinogenic effects that may last 4-8 hours.
Actually created in the 1970s by Alexander Shulgin, a psychopharmacologist endorsed by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 2C-E has gained popularity with the young crowd in the past several years. This is possibly due to its accessibility over the Internet and its psychedelic properties, the Phoenix New Times reports.
Called Europa, Tootsie, and Aquarust, 2C-E may be bought online and shipped into the United States from China or Thailand, ABC News reports. The drug may create a “high” by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain as well as by causing hallucinations.
Designer drugs are difficult to recognize. It is hard to identify exactly what is in the drug being taken, making these drugs incredibly hazardous and increasing the potential for an adverse reaction or deadly overdose. The drug 2C-E has been identified as the cause in a mass overdose event of 11 young adults, resulting in the death of at least one 19-year-old man in Minnesota. According to CBS News, it may be difficult to quantify exactly how many others may have been negatively affected by it throughout the country.
This drug is often found in crystal, powder, or even liquid form, though it is most often ingested orally when abused. The DEA considers 2C-E a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States, meaning that it is illegal with no accepted medicinal uses and has a high potential for abuse.
Side Effects of 2-CE Abuse
As a partial stimulant drug, 2C-E raises body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure when taken. Individuals may hallucinate and have a kind of “out-of-body” experience. The drug may not affect everyone in exactly the same way, however, making it unpredictable and difficult to know how someone will react to 2C-E.
Overdose is a real concern since 2C-E may have a slow onset, prompting people to take more and more of the drug since they may not notice any effects right away. KHOU reports that 2C-E may stay in someone’s system for up to 12 hours, wreaking havoc on the heart, respiration levels, and kidneys, and raising body temperature to dangerous levels.
There are several variations of drugs in the 2C family. In 2013, the Journal of Medical Toxicology published that at least five deaths could be attributed to 2C drug intoxication. Someone taking a 2C drug may become violent, aggressive, or agitated; experience hallucinations or be delirious; and suffer from hypertension, tachycardia, hyperthermia, trouble breathing, chest pains, or seizures while intoxicated.
Side effects of 2C-E are increased if another drug or alcohol is taken simultaneously, as the substances may interact with each other and increase the potential risks for overdose and other health concerns.
Mental health issues may also be compounded by drugs such as 2C-E, and the drug may make mental illness symptoms worse.
When 2C-E is taken regularly, the brain may stop producing some of the chemical messengers that tell the brain to feel happy when stimulated by natural events, and the drug may be the only way an individual can now feel pleasure. As a result, depression and an inability to feel good without the drug may be side effects of chronic 2C-E abuse. Addiction may occur when drug-seeking behaviors and usage patterns become compulsive and out of the individual’s control.
Recognizing Synthetic Drug Abuse and Getting Help
Being able to spot 2C-E abuse can help family members and loved ones open the door to a discussion about substance abuse and may be the first step toward getting help. Some signs of 2C-E abuse to watch for include:
- Packages coming in the mail from out of the country
- Finding wrappers or labels without listed ingredients
- Mood swings
- Unpredictable and erratic behavior
- Drop in grades at school or performance at work
- Increased secrecy and time spent online
- Social withdrawal and lack of interest in activities that were previously important
- Sleeping more or less than usual and at odd times
- Changes in weight or eating habits
- Lack of concern for personal hygiene
- Depression and/or suicidal thoughts or behaviors
- Increased risk-taking behaviors or engaging in potentially dangerous behaviors
- Possible financial trouble or legal difficulties
While hallucinogenic drugs like 2C-E are not generally considered to be highly addictive substances, their abuse may lead to other concerns and may indicate a struggle with substance abuse that could benefit from substance abuse treatment. Abusing drugs before the brain has fully developed is problematic, as the parts of the brain that help someone to make good decisions, control impulses, and regulate emotions are not completely formed until around the mid-20s, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports, making someone both vulnerable to drug abuse and opening the door for possible future problems. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that people who had abused marijuana before the age of 15 were more likely to suffer from a substance abuse or dependency issue as an adult than those who waited until they were over 18 to try the drug for the first time, for instance. Abusing drugs at a young age can cause changes in the chemical makeup of the brain that may lead to complications later in life.
Getting help for 2C-E abuse often starts with detox that may be medically managed in a specialized facility. Medical detox includes 24-hour monitoring and supervision to ensure safety and as much comfort as possible. Psychedelic drugs like 2C-E do not generally have many withdrawal symptoms; therefore, no specific medications are required during detox. Symptoms like seizures may be managed with benzodiazepines, and antipsychotic drugs may be beneficial in minimizing agitation, the journal Addiction Science & Clinical Practice (ASCP Journal) publishes.
Beyond detox, therapy and counseling are needed to determine the reason someone may be turning to drugs. Sometimes, drug abuse is a coping mechanism to minimize emotional pain or mental illness symptoms, or to escape stress or memories of trauma. Behavioral therapies, in both group and individual settings, can get to the root causes of an individual’s substance abuse, and teach new and healthier ways to manage stress and deal with potential triggers. Support groups exist for both families and those battling substance abuse, and they may be beneficial during recovery.
Both outpatient care, where the individual returns home at night, and residential treatment, where the person stays onsite in a specialized facility for period of time, can promote long-term recovery from drug abuse. Highly trained professionals can help determine the appropriate level of care through a confidential assessment and evaluation in order to promote complete recovery.