Research Chemicals Drugs

Dangers of Research Chemicals, Types, Effects, Overdose, Intoxication, Detox & Rehab Treatment

What Are Research Chemicals Drugs?

Research chemicals drugs are substances that are used recreationally by people seeking to alter their moods and get high. Research chemicals drugs (RCs) are dangerous and do not have a legitimate or legal purpose for the general public. Despite the name, research chemicals drugs are not chemicals used in scientific research. In the context of substance abuse, research chemicals drugs are poorly understood and can be very dangerous. While MDMA is not a research chemical, some of these substances are associated with MDMA-like effects when ingested.

In medical and scientific research, as outlined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), some chemicals can be used for research purposes, to develop new pharmaceutical remedies, or investigate the effects of specific molecules. However, research chemicals drugs used to get high are a different type of substance altogether. These substances are developed in a lab and frequently have mechanisms of action or effects that mimic those of other abused substances such as marijuana, opioids, or cocaine.

research chemicals drugs
Research chemicals drugs are substances that are used recreationally by people seeking to alter their moods and get high.

These drugs are then sold to people with little understanding of their chemical constituents or actual effects for the mere purpose of recreational use. Although the chemicals may have once been derived from legitimate chemical research, the term research chemicals drugs are misleading and hide how dangerous these psychoactive substances can be.

In their legitimate scientific form, research chemicals drugs are just that—new chemicals in the research stage of development, so they come with hypotheses about their potential uses but little in terms of controlled studies and probable health risks. Chemical formulas are obtained by copying publicly published research; the structure is replicated and then mass-produced and sold, typically through online vendors. Some vendors are selling research chemicals drugs on social media apps, such as Instagram and Snapchat.

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Types of Research Chemicals

A list of research chemicals drugs will change nearly every day as new versions of chemicals are developed. A list of dangerous research chemicals drugs (RCs) that have been found and seized due to reported substance abuse and overdose is outlined below.

  • 25I-NBOMe and 25C-NBOMe: These designer hallucinogens are taken orally and sometimes confused with LSD. Severe toxicity and deaths have been reported in connection with these substances. They are often referred to as N-bomb or Smiles.
  • 2C Series: A popular group of synthetic hallucinogens, these drugs contain 2,5-dimethyoxyphenethylamine. One of the more famous is 2C-E, also known as Europa. The drugs allegedly produce the same effects as LSD. Dangerous and unpredictable side effects include difficulty breathing and persistent, psychotic hallucinations. Drugs in the 2C series have been linked to lethal overdoses.
  • Acetyl fentanyl: With fentanyl, a potent prescription narcotic around 100 times more potent than heroin, already devastating the country, the introduction of acetyl fentanyl as a research chemical puts people struggling with opioid addiction at significant risk of death. This opioid product has been linked to fatalities, but as a research chemical, human reactions to the substance have not been exhaustively documented.
  • Arylcyclohexylamine: This group of chemicals is marketed as being similar to ketamine; they allegedly elicit dissociative, anesthetic, and hallucinogenic effects. While pharmaceutical ketamine is an arylcyclohexylamine, the group contains other, less understood research chemicals drugs.
  • Bromo-DragonFLY: There is case report evidence to suggest that this synthetic psychedelic amphetamine derivative has led to severe toxic reactions that include agitation and seizures.
research chemicals drugs
A list of research chemicals drugs will change nearly every day as new versions of chemicals are developed.
  • Etizolam: This benzodiazepine cousin is 10 times more potent than Valium, a  long-acting prescription anti-anxiety medication. While etizolam is legal in India, Italy, and Japan to treat insomnia, it is not prescribed in the United States. People who struggle with benzodiazepine addiction have been known to purchase this drug through online retailers when it is marketed as a research chemical; unfortunately, the status of the research chemical drugs means that this version of etizolam has likely been tampered with, making it more dangerous. The use of the drug can lead to slurred speech, confusion, headaches, and drowsiness, among other side effects.
  • Methoxamine (MXE): This drug is a dissociative and pain suppressant, similar to ketamine; in fact, it is often sold as a ketamine derivative. MXE boasts effects like those of PCP, another dangerous synthetic psychoactive drug. The high from MXE lasts 5-7 hours. There are overdose deaths linked to this compound.
  • Methylhexanamine (DMAA): This designer stimulant is marketed as a synthetic cathinone replacement, especially after horrific reports about the dangers of bath salts. DMAA is sometimes found in the dietary supplement market for weight loss because supplements are poorly regulated in the US.
  • Other phenethylamines: Technically,  phenethylamines can be found in the body; most mammals produce these neurotransmitters, which are associated with infatuation and romance. They are stimulants, with effects like those of MDMA or amphetamines. When mixed in research chemicals, these drugs can lead to intense highs like those associated with crystal meth or ecstasy.
  • Piperazines: More commonly found in industrial chemicals, these drugs are both stimulants and hallucinogens, believed to have amphetamine-like or MDMA-like psychoactive effects. Chemicals commonly found in this group include BZP, TFMPP, mCPP, and MeOPP. They are found as tablets, which could lead to confusion with other drugs in tablet form.
  • Tryptamines: These occur naturally in some plant species, although the intoxicating version is produced in a lab. These are hallucinogens that distort reality more than other forms of hallucinogenic substances. They can be found in tablet, powder, or blotter paper form, and there are dozens of chemicals widely available from this group.

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Dangers of Research Chemicals

While many well-known intoxicating drugs like alcohol, marijuana, heroin, and cocaine are abused across the country and cause numerous overdoses and chronic health problems every year, new synthetic versions of these drugs are being released without any testing.

Research chemicals drugs mimicking cannabinoids, opioids, stimulants, and hallucinogens are intensely dangerous because their effects are unpredictable; they can be very harmful physically, last for a very long time, lead to permanent psychosis or damage to internal organs, or cause spontaneous death. There is no safe way to dose these substances. People who begin abusing these drugs need to seek help immediately.

Chemical Research Drugs

Some kinds of research chemicals drugs are more widely manufactured and abused than others. The top five most famous research chemicals drugs of abuse are outlined below.

research chemicals drugs
Research chemicals drugs mimicking cannabinoids, opioids, stimulants, and hallucinogens are intensely dangerous because their effects are unpredictable.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

These unpredictable drugs are designed to mimic marijuana in both appearance and effect. Sold as incense or plant food, and labeled “not for human consumption,” synthetic cannabinoids bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. They can produce some relaxing and psychedelic effects like those associated with use of organic marijuana.

Since these research chemicals drugs are untested, they are unpredictable. Often, they lead to overdose symptoms like hyperthermia, heart attacks, psychosis, and intense hallucinations. The drugs may bind to the cannabinoid receptors for a few hours, or a few days. Many people have been hospitalized after abusing drugs like K2, Spice, or fake weed.

Synthetic Cathinones

These drugs are modeled after stimulants that naturally occur in the khat plant, which is native to Eastern Africa. The chemical in khat is cathinone, and synthetic cathinones are those that are chemically similar but manufactured in a laboratory. These drugs are crystalline powders or crystals, usually white or brown. They are sold in packages labeled “not for human consumption,” like synthetic marijuana, and sometimes called jewelry cleaner or phone screen cleaner.

More common names include bath salts, flakka, scar face, and cloud nine.While synthetic cathinones can produce stimulant effects like increased attention and sociability, they are more likely to induce paranoia, delirium, high body temperature, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, and sudden death. Many people have been hospitalized due to bath salts and related drugs, and several people have died.


Several research chemicals drugs were developed to act like psychedelic drugs. LSD is a totally synthetic drug, but its hallucinogenic and emotional effects are well documented. Newer drugs with labels like 4-HO-MET, 2C-I, and TMA-2 are manufactured analogs of existing drugs like psilocybin or lab-made psychedelics like DMT.

As a group, designer hallucinogens are either tryptamines or phenethylamines. These drugs typically cause auditory and visual hallucinations, and often tactile hallucinations; they also cause negative side effects like paranoia, depression, confusion, and physical effects like stomach cramps and diarrhea. They can lead to overdose, which typically involves mental effects like extreme anxiety, delusions, and psychosis.


Some forms of piperazine were developed as tablets or syrups for prescription use to treat roundworm and pin worm infections in both humans and animals. These medications have been discontinued as anthelmintics, however, because they were linked to liver damage, kidney disease, and seizures. Because many versions of piperazine chemicals were developed for research into potential new treatments, like other NPSs, the formulas for these drugs are now being manufactured and sold untested.

Piperazines are often abused in club or rave settings and called legal E, herbal ecstasy, frenzy, or bliss. Intoxication can result in a high similar to that associated with ecstasy, including excitement, euphoria, and sociability. Side effects can include insomnia, anxiety, depression, dehydration, and, of course, the dangerous effects from the deworming medications: kidney and liver damage or seizures.

Fentanyl and Other Opioids

While fentanyl is a potent narcotic – about 50-100 times more powerful than morphine, from which it is derived, and about 80 times more potent than heroin – it is a Schedule II substance, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Fentanyl is found in a few brands prescribed to treat chronic, severe pain that other opioid painkillers cannot treat.

The drug is created in laboratories, and there are many research versions in the fentanyl family of chemicals that have been created for illicit purposes and are being abused. This is in addition to the diversion of prescription fentanyl. These untested, unregulated, and extremely dangerous versions of an already potent narcotic have led to hundreds of overdoses in the United States alone.

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Mental and Physical Effects of Research Chemicals

Information on the effects of research chemicals drugs relies on two sources: emergency department reports when a person overdoses and anecdotal evidence from those who survive the high. Of the two, overdose reports are able to provide more objective information and underscore how dangerous and hard to control these substances can be. 

Symptoms seen in those who are admitted to the ER after ingesting research chemicals drugs include:

  • Seizures
  • Organ damage to liver, kidneys, lungs, etc
  • Stopped breathing
  • Lack of response, unconsciousness, or coma
  • Extreme agitation
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Intense hallucinations
  • Psychosis

Anecdotally reported physical effects of some research chemicals, which involve a combination of stimulants, sedatives, and hallucinogens, can include:

  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Pupil dilation
  • Either excitement or relaxation, unpredictably
  • Vasoconstriction, or tightening of the blood vessels related to stimulation
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Spontaneous tactile sensations or hallucinations
  • Elevated body temperature, sometimes leading to hyperthermia
  • Liver and kidney damage from hyperthermia

In many cases, psychological effects are the desired outcome of using these drugs. In addition to producing auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations, effects such as derealization and time dilation can be quite dangerous for users.

Other psychological changes associated with research chemicals drugs include:

  • Violence toward others
  • Delusions
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Panic
  • Disorientation
  • Paranoia

After ingesting research chemicals, people have been hospitalized due to erratic behavior, seizures, depression or stopped breathing, and other dangers. Emergency rooms are getting better at recognizing designer drugs, largely because of the swath of overdoses from bath salts or synthetic cannabis; however, the presence of the chemicals is still difficult to identify in many people who are admitted for overdose treatment since the chemical formulas are not widely known. This makes reporting overdoses on specific chemicals difficult.

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Signs of Research Chemicals Drug Abuse and Addiction

Research chemicals drugs are designed to be potent. They act in a specific way on the brain, inducing hallucinations, feelings of pleasure, relaxation, or stimulation quickly. Dangerous side effects last for a long time, with little understanding of how long the chemicals will bind to receptors in the brain, or how they are metabolized and long they stay in the body.

Most drugs have an understood therapeutic windowhow much of the drug is required to produce a specific effect, how long before adverse symptoms begin, and how much is required before overdose symptoms occur. When scientific researchers examine new chemicals, the second step after development is to begin examining the therapeutic window through animal studies. Unfortunately, designer drugs in the research chemical group rarely have featured animal studies before they are sold to the public.

research chemicals drugs
There is no such thing as a mild high, and there is rarely a ramp-up stage for abuse with these drugs.

Changes in behavior may appear like those associated with other hallucinogens like LSD, psychoactive drugs like MDMA, potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl, or more famous synthetic chemicals like bath salts. It is hard to say precisely which effects occur as a result of taking these substances, because there is no standard for what chemicals will be found in research chemicals. For example, a person who thinks they are using MDMA, may instead be ingesting a chemical which contains fentanyl.

The only way to know if a person is struggling with abuse of research chemicals drugs is if they are hospitalized for an overdose or other physical symptoms related to their use. Their behavior will most likely be paranoid or psychotic, and they may report seeing or hearing things that are not there for several hours. Their breathing may stop; they may vomit a great deal; they may stop eating; they may suffer from hyperthermia; they may have seizures; they may have a heart attack; or they may fall into a coma.

There is no such thing as a mild high, and there is rarely a ramp-up stage for abuse with these drugs. More widely known and abused drugs like cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and opioids often begin with small doses here and there; but as a person builds tolerance to a substance, they will take more and more, as their body begins to rely on the presence of the drug to create an equilibrium with neurotransmitters in the brain.

They will seek out these substances; they will lie about their abuse; and they may begin to avoid work, school, or social events in favor of taking the drug. In contrast, one dose of research chemicals drugs could lead to overdose, or it could product little effect.

Getting Help and Treatment for Research Chemicals Drug Addiction

Finding a detox program that can manage intense symptoms is very important. A person who struggles with research chemical abuse may have to detox in a hospital or rehab setting with 24/7 supervision from medical professionals. Because little is understood about research chemical drugs and how the body metabolizes these substances, there are no medicated options for medically managed withdrawal, unlike opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines, and some other intoxicating drugs. However, medical interventions may be necessary, including breathing support, tranquilizers, and IV fluids.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has guidelines for treating people struggling with polydrug abuse, which may work well as a foundation for treatment of research chemical abuse. EMCDDA states that withdrawal management/detox is the first step, followed by drug-free physical and social techniques, like psychotherapy, geared to improving the individual’s wellbeing and independence.

Rehabilitation after detox requires evaluating the individual’s physical and psychological health. Co-occurring mental health disorders, like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, must be treated at the same time as substance abuse; otherwise, failure to treat one issue increases the risk of relapse in symptoms of the other condition. The person should also be assessed to determine if inpatient or outpatient treatment will work best.

NIDA reports that most people get the best benefit from rehabilitation if they remain in treatment for three months or 90 days. The agency also notes that it is important that treatment is easily accessible and widely available. For many people, however, insurance will only cover one month of treatment, if any; other financial obstacles could get in the way of appropriate treatment like unemployment.

Finding a rehabilitation program that specializes in designer drugs, NPSs, or research chemical treatment may be challenging, as these are newer substances. Most rehab centers can address abuse of and addiction to these substances even if they don’t specialize in them. As more information about these substances is gathered, rehabilitation programs are expanding their therapeutic treatment options to help people struggling with research chemical addiction.

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[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Ordering guidelines for research chemicals and controlled substances.

[2] U.S. Department of Justice. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). Synthetic drugs

[3] Drug Enforcement Administration. (2018). 25I-NBOMe, 25C-NBOMe, and 25B-NBOMe

[4] Dean, B. V., Stellpflug, S. J., Burnett, A. M., & Engebretsen, K. M. (2013). 2C or not 2C: phenethylamine designer drug review. Journal of Medical Toxicology, 9 (2), 172-178.

[5] Drug Enforcement Administration. (2018). Etizolam.

[6] National Center for Biotechnology Information. Methoxetamine.

[7] National Center for Biotechnology Information. Dimethylpentylamine.

[8] United Nations Office of Drug Control. (2019). Phenethylamines.

[9] United Nations Office of Drug Control. (2019). Piperazines.

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