Synthetic drugs

Drugs in this group

Synthetic opioids and new psychoactive substances such as synthetic cannabinoids, monkey dust and mephedrone.



Synthetic drugs are manufactured using man-made chemicals, rather than natural ingredients. They aim to mimic the effects of existing illicit drugs, such as heroin, cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.


The risks will depend on which synthetic drug is taken. 

In some circumstances, people are unaware that they have taken a synthetic drug. As it might not be what’s expected and could have different effects, there is an increased risk of harm, overdose and death.

If you are taking them

  • What’s in the drug you’re taking and the strength can vary between batches, so start with a small amount, wait to see how it affects you, and space out your doses – even if you use drugs regularly.
  • It is best not to use alone, or if you’re in a position where there is nobody you could call for help. A buddy system – where one person takes their hit first and waits until the peak effects have worn off before the other person uses – makes it more likely that someone can help in an emergency.
  • Try to take one drug at a time, as mixing different drugs, including with alcohol, can increase your risk of harm and overdose.


If you think someone has overdosed, put them in the recovery position and get help fast by calling 999, telling emergency services what you know. 


Signs of an overdose will depend on what substance(s) have been taken, but may include:

  • Not being able to wake someone up
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lips or fingertips with a blue (on lighter skin) or grey (if darker skin) tinge
  • Finding it difficult to walk or talk 
  • Confusion
  • Drug paraphernalia being on the floor 

If you have naloxone – give it. Naloxone reverses the effects of opioid drugs like heroin, methadone and fentanyl. If someone hasn’t overdosed on opioids, naloxone won’t harm them – but if they have, it could save their life.


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