Recreational Drugs: 5 Threats to Know About

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 07, 2018

You can find Molly at concerts, festivals, and anywhere teens and young adults get together. But Molly isn’t a girl. It’s an illegal recreational drug, one of several growing in popularity.

Because they’re illegal, there are no controls over what might be in them. In fact, many aren’t even the substance they’re sold as.

Researchers found more than 250 newly created recreational drugs from 2012 to 2014. Most fell into one of two categories: Synthetic cannabinoids (which are related to marijuana), or synthetic cathinones (which you’re more likely to hear called “bath salts” because they’re crystals).

Scientists say these new drugs could be even more dangerous than the ones that came before them -- and those were plenty risky already.

Here’s what experts say parents -- and anyone who takes these -- should know:

1. Molly

Up to 12% of teens and young adults have tried what they thought was Molly. It’s popular at parties and concerts. Bands have written songs about it.

When it first came out, it was a pure form of a banned drug called MDMA or ecstasy, It’s known to create feelings of euphoria and friendliness.

One of the reasons its use is on the rise: Many teens believe it’s not only pure, but safe. The Drug Enforcement Administration says today’s Molly is neither. That’s because it can be made of pretty much anything. Samples seized by law enforcement agencies have contained:

Users can take Molly as a capsule, tablet, or liquid. It can also be snorted.

It’s been tied to a number of overdoses and deaths. The drug has left people with:

  • Severe muscle tension
  • Seizures
  • Dangerous overheating

It can lead to depression and anxiety that can last for days and even cause memory loss.

2. Krokodil

Krokodil (pronounced crocodile) is a homemade stand-in for heroin. Its use is epidemic in Russia. Its name refers to the way it turns your skin green or black and scaly, like a crocodile.

The drug is made from codeine mixed with household chemicals like paint thinner and gasoline. It’s taken as a shot and gives users a high many times stronger than morphine.

Addicts can get gangrene, which can lead to loss of body parts. The drug can also cause flesh to rot down to the bone.

3. Synthetic Opioids

In just 1 week in August 2016, 174 people in Cincinnati overdosed on heroin. Authorities soon found the reason for the spike: The drug may have been laced with fentanyl, a man-made opioid that’s up to 50 times stronger than heroin.

It also could have contained the animal sedative carfentanil. That’s another manmade opioid said to be 100 times stronger than fentanyl and 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

When fentanyl -- the drug that caused the death of rock star Prince -- and carfentanil are combined with heroin, they make a potent mix.

Most users have no idea how potent they can be. The result: Overdoses -- some that lead to death.

How potent can these mixtures be? It takes only about 2 milligrams of carfentanil to knock out a 2,000 pound elephant.

4. Flakka

This is a mind-altering stimulant -- a type of drug most often called “bath salts.” The scientific name for it is alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone, but you’ll hear it shortened to alpha-PVP. It’s often sold as a cheap stand-in for things like methamphetamine and cocaine.

It can cause:

Flakka is made mostly in China, where it was named a controlled substance in 2015. Users can smoke, inject, or snort it.

5. Spice, or K2

Although it’s sold in many places as “natural,” Spice (or K2, Black Mamba, Bliss, Fire, Skunk, and many other names) is anything but. It’s a mixture of dried herbs infused with a synthetic compound related to THC. That’s the chemical in marijuana that gets you high.

Spice, a manmade cannabinoid, is often much stronger than THC, though. That means it can be way more dangerous.

It’s often sold as a legal alternative to marijuana. It can be added to a mixture that can be sprayed on dried, shredded plants so that it looks a lot like potpourri -- so that it can be smoked. It can also be used in liquid form like in drinks, or vaporized and inhaled.

It can cause:

Spice can boost your heart rate and blood pressure, which can lead to a heart attack. The actual effects are tough to predict. But in some cases, they can be life-threatening.

News of these dangers may be getting through. Use of manmade cannabinoids like Spice among high school seniors dropped from 11.3% in 2012 to 5.6% in 2016.

Show Sources


David Sack, MD, CEO, Elements Behavioral Health; CEO, Promises Treatment Centers.

Joseph Moses, special agent, Drug Enforcement Administration.

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “MDMA,” “Spice.”

Drug Enforcement Administration: "Drug Fact Sheets.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Drug Facts: High School and Youth Trends.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Commonly Abused Drugs Charts.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Drug Facts: Synthetic Cannabinoids.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Drug Facts: Synthetic Cathinones (‘Bath Salts’).”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Flakka (alpha-PVP).”

Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office: “Regional Narcotics Unit Seize Carfentanil.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Drug Facts: Fentanyl.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Emerging Trends and Alerts.”

Destination Health EU: “Heroin laced with elephant tranquilizer hits the streets.” “OD Crisis: Flying Blind in Search of Killer Heroin’s Source.”

New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services: “FYI: Krokodil.”

Ohio Mental Health Addiction Services: “Second Generation “Bath Salts” Emergent in Ohio, Presence of Flakka Becoming Known.”

Scientific American: “Why the Pain Drug That Killed Prince Can Be Especially Dangerous.”

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