What is a designer drug? Is it legal in France?

Synthetic drugs (MDMA, GHB, methamphetamines, etc.) are designed in clandestine laboratories from chemical molecules and are dangerous and illegal in France. Among them, New Synthesis Products (NPS) such as 3-MMC, which are even more powerful and addictive.

  C'est quoi une drogue de synthèse ? C'est légal en France ?

Unlike drugs of natural origin (cannabis, cocaine, etc.), synthetic drugs (MDMA, GHB...) are obtained from chemical molecules produced in the laboratory (clandestine) . When absorbed by the body, these synthetic substances alter the functions of the body and the central nervous system and have effects on thoughts, emotions, behaviors and mood . What is the list of synthetic drugs? What are the New Synthetic Products as the 3-MMC which we hear more and more about? What are the effects? Health hazards? Is it legal in France?

Definition: What is a designer drug?

On distinguishes them naturally occurring drugs (or traditional drugs ) which are made from natural products or made from natural ingredients (plants) such as cocaine or cannabis and so-called synthetic drugs (or synthetic drugs ) that are made from synthetic chemical ingredients and which require, in order to be obtained, manipulations and chemical reactions. In other words, synthetic drugs are obtained without the need for a plant. Synthetic drugs are mainly made in pill form , packaging that is easy to transport and market.

What are the effects of a designer drug?

Synthetic drugs are intended to reproduce the effects of naturally psychotropic products . The effects sought when consuming synthetic drugs are:

  • The feeling of drunkenness and euphoria
  • The feeling of vitality (which allows you to stay awake for a very long time)
  • Or on the contrary, the effect relaxing and sedative (the heart rate is slowed down)
  • The increased sensitivity and facilitation of contacts (empathogenic and entactogenic properties): synthetic drugs disinhibit .
  • Disorientation (difficulty situating oneself in space or time, hence the feeling of 'hovering') and the modification of perceptions and senses (sight, touch, etc.)

The effects felt can be more or less intense from one take to another and can vary according to different parameters: the morphology of the user, his consumption habits, the dosage of the product, the cumulative effect of several drugs, the cumulative effect with alcohol, the environment... depending on the drug and the user, the effects may last a few tens of minutes , even many hours .

List of designer drug examples

MDMA tablets

Some of the most well-known designer drugs include:

  • the methamphetamine
  • l' amphetamine
  • l' ecstasy or the MDMA
  • the GHB
  • the ketamine
  • the PCP (phencyclidine)

They can come in different forms depending on the type of drug: in powder, in blotter, in liquid form, in the form of crystals ...

Ecstasy (MDMA)

PCP (phencyclidine)





What is a New Synthetic Product (NPS)?

Among synthetic drugs, there are new synthetic drugs where the New Synthetic Products (abbreviated NPS ) which designate in France psychoactive substances which aim to mimic the effects of natural drugs (cocaine, cannabis) or the effects of designer drugs (MDMA, Amphetamines...). They are made with derivatives of petroleum, acetone or acids and are 'cheaper' than the drugs they imitate. These products are sold on the Internet under innocuous-sounding names like 'bath salts', 'cactus fertilizer', 'incense', 'dried herbal mix' when they are usually more powerful, more dangerous and more addictive than imitation drugs. ' These names used on online sales sites aim to hide the real nature of the product to circumvent drug legislation. They usually include the words 'Not for human consumption' ', specifies the site Drogues Info Service . Indeed, the fact that they do not contain the same molecular structures as synthetic drugs allows them to fool the law on narcotics (most NPS have no clear legal status and their exact composition is rarely known because their recipes are very often modified), confirms the French Observatory of Drugs and Addictive Tendencies (OFDT). NPS are categorized into 8 families (the first 3 families are the most common in France):

  1. THE phenetylamines (example: 2C-B)
  2. THE synthetic cannabinoids (example: Buddha Blue or the PTC)
  3. THE cathinones (example: 3-MMC or 4-MEC whose effects are close to MDMA or cocaine)
  4. THE synthetic opioids (examples: fentanyloids)
  5. THE tryptamines (examples: the psilocin, psilocybin, DET, DMT)
  6. THE piperazines (example: the BZP, the mCPP or the TFMPP)
  7. THE synthetic benzodiazepines
  8. THE arylcyclohexylamines /arylakylamines (example: the MXE)

Attention , the sites selling these new synthetic drugs use servers hosted in countries with different legislation [...]' Moreover, information on composition and purity levels should never be relied upon advertised on online sales sites. Indeed, the manufacture of synthetic drugs is not subject to any control . From one batch to another, impurities can appear following a bad synthesis and the percentages of active product can be very different. Sometimes, the molecule ordered is not even the one delivered. It is replaced by another molecule without the user being informed and without knowing the effects and risks. , would like to warn the Interministerial mission to fight against drugs and active behavior (MILDECA). The French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT) has identified four types of problematic online shopping sites :

  1. So-called 'commercial' sites,
  2. Sites intended for an informed public
  3. The 'deep web' sites (hidden networks, not accessible to search engines, with confidential addresses)
  4. Classified ad sites and social networks that serve as information relays for products and sites

Are synthetic drugs legal in France?

► Regarding synthetic drugs: they are considered narcotics and are therefore illegal in France (it's illegal to buy it as well as to consume it) . Indeed, the term 'narcotic' thus designates all prohibited drugs, recalls the Drug Info Service website . In France, about 200 psychoactive substances are prohibited. To prohibit a substance, an order is issued by the Minister of Health, which adds it to the French list of narcotics. In France, the illicit use of any substance or plant classified as a narcotic is an offense punishable by penalties of up to up to one year in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros (art. L.3421-1 du CSP).

► Regarding New Synthetic Products: The main means of legislative control of NPS remains their registration on the list of all substances classified as narcotics in France . This list in France is fixed by a decree of February 22, 1990, established from the international conventions on narcotics of 1961 and 1971. It is regularly supplemented since the appearance of the NPS. ' The majority of NPS consumed in France are classified on the list of narcotics [...] The use and trafficking of substances or plants classified as narcotics are prohibited , according to the terms of the law of December 31, 1970 , and trade for pharmaceutical or industrial purposes is highly regulated ', indicates the OFDT in its Drugs and addictions report - Essential data of 2019. In theory, all NPS are illegal in France. But to escape the legislation and the radar of the authorities, the manufacturers change the recipes, modify the molecular structures and affix the words 'unfit for human consumption' when these products clearly have a vocation for drugs.

What are the risks and side effects of synthetic drugs?

A single intake of synthetic drugs can already have effects on health and cause:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Loss of sensitivity
  • Hallucinations
  • panic attacks
  • Convulsions
  • Respiratory risks (with respiratory failure, feeling of suffocation)
  • Memory problems
  • Paralysis
  • Hypertension
  • high fever
  • Cardiac disorders
  • On the long term : risks linked to weight loss (associated with the absence of hunger), chronic insomnia, mood disorders, feeling of exhaustion, depression, paranoia, toxicity for most organs of the body such as the stomach, the kidneys, heart...
  • The overdose , which can occur with every intake, even the first time, and lead to death.

How to get out of an addiction to synthetic drugs?

As with any drug addiction, a abrupt withdrawal and carried out alone can be very dangerous for the organism. Rather, it is better to call on an addiction specialist who can suggest appropriate drug treatment, do personal therapy or participate in group discussions. To put you in touch with an addiction specialist, go to your attending physician , an association (Association Addictions France, SOS Addictions, SOS Group...) or a Center for care, support and prevention in addictology (CSAPA).

- Drogues-info-service.fr

- Interministerial mission to fight against drugs and active behavior (GENTLE)

- Synthetic Drugs, G.A.E Conseil, Addiction Experts in Business

- French Observatory of Drugs and Addictive Tendencies (OFDT)

- French Society of Emergency Medicine

- Early Warning System on NPS , European Monitoring Centre For Drug and Drug Addiction

- Poisonous substances (Lists I and II, narcotics, psychotropics), Medicines Agency, ANSM, updated August 30, 2022.

Source journaldesfemmes.fr