Research chemicals is a blanket term referring to a group of psychoactive drugs that are discovered and manufactured by researching and experimenting with other drugs. These substances are sometimes referred to as “designer drugs” because they are manufactured in legitimate labs. However, similar to other synthetic drugs, designer drugs can be dangerous. And, research chemicals are rarely developed with human consumption in mind. As a result of this, there is little research regarding the human use of these substances. This leads to an increased risk of overdose, addiction, and other health consequences.

These drugs can be synthetic versions of other prescription drugs, such as synthetic opioids, or they may be manufactured using the active ingredient in other synthetic drugs, such as tryptamine. Even though they are marketed as “not for human consumption” they are widely abused by people who are seeking a “legal” high.[1]

A Brief History of Research Chemicals and Other Designer Drugs

Designer drugs began infiltrating nightclubs and party scenes in the 1980s and 1990s. The problem became so severe that the DEA was granted permission to schedule drugs as controlled substances as soon as they emerged on the market. The first time the DEA used this power was to label MDMA as a controlled substance.

Despite the DEA’s efforts, they were unable to keep up with the internet boom of the millennium. In the last 1990s and early 2000s, developers of designer drugs began selling designer drugs in dark corners of the internet. Rather than labeling these substances “designer drugs,” a new name came to the surface for new-age substances: research chemicals.

By labeling new psychoactive substances (NPS) as chemicals of research, some sellers were able to avoid the legal consequences that are associated with illicit drug sales. However, these substances have proven to be extremely dangerous.

Concerns Around Manufacturing and Safety

The self-proclaimed chemists who manufacture these substances often use legal chemicals or change the recipe from one batch to the next to avoid getting caught by the law. These substances may be different from one batch to batch with varying degrees of potency. In addition, these substances have not been tested or researched, so it is impossible for anyone, including the drug developer, to understand the side effects and dangers of them.

When research chemicals hit the online market, there is little information regarding their toxicology, effects, and interactions. The lack of this information makes abusing these substances very risky. Drug users may have no idea what they are putting in their bodies or how it will affect them. As a result, negative side effects or poisoning can easily occur.

The problem with these drugs is that they are constantly evolving. The chemicals listed online today may be different from those listed tomorrow. As soon as a chemical is discovered, studied, and banned, another one pops up on the market. And, the scientists developing them are careful enough to create substances with chemical structures that are just different enough to evade legal consequences.

Most Commonly Abused Research Chemicals

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most commonly abused research chemicals are:

  • 2-CB
  • 2-CI
  • Methylone
  • Mephedrone
  • Synthetic cannabinoids (Spice and K2)

These drugs are commonly mixed with marijuana and alcohol.[1] Another popular drug combination involving these drugs is ecstasy (MDMA) and 2-CB. Studies suggest that most research chemical users are polydrug users who obtain the substances from their friends or on the internet.

Other types of drugs that have been found in research substances include:

  • Tryptamines
  • Phenethylamines
  • Aminoindanes
  • Cathinones
  • Methoxetamine
  • Piperazine derivatives

2-C Drugs

2-C Class drugs, such as 2-CI, 2-CE, and 2C-B are powerful psychedelic substances that produce stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. These drugs are similar to MDMA and carry a high risk of overdose, addiction, and other health effects.[2]


Tryptamines are synthetic psychedelic drugs similar to magic mushrooms (psilocybin), LSD, and DMT. These drugs produce strong hallucinations. While they are not physically addictive, they can lead to tolerance, paranoia, and psychosis.[3]

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids are substances created to mimic the effects of cannabis. These are often sold as incense under the names of Spice and K2. While they may produce euphoric and relaxing effects, they can also have more adverse side effects than marijuana.

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are designer drugs that mimic the effects of naturally occurring opioids. As the opioid epidemic continues and the demand for opioids stays present, new synthetic substances are constantly being developed and sold. One example of this type of drug is W-18, an opioid-like research drug.

Treatment and Recovery

Some research chemicals, particularly synthetic opioids, can be addictive. And, just like any other addiction, may require detox and long-term treatment. If you or someone you know is abusing research chemicals or may be addictive, call now to get more information about treatment and recovery.