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What Is the Difference Between Organic and Synthetic Drugs?

What Is the Difference Between Organic and Synthetic Drugs?

Spice is a commonly abused synthetic drug

Drugs are usually either organic or synthetic, and it can be difficult to understand what that means. These are broad terms that classify drugs, and they each have unique and similar characteristics. While it is helpful to separate drugs in this way, referring to a drug as organic or synthetic does not indicate anything specific about that drug’s effects or abuse potential. These factors are determined by each drug individually.

What Are Organic Drugs?

There are many ideas of what constitutes an organic drug. Chemically, many people believe that an organic substance contains carbon and hydrogen. Under this definition, most drugs would be considered organic, but it is also a loose term to describe a substance that grows naturally, such as a plant. To compare organic and synthetic drugs, it is a useful definition. Many of the drugs people use are organic, like marijuana, salvia, psilocybin (or mushrooms), peyote, and kratom. Two common opiates, codeine and morphine, are also considered organic, as they are derived from the poppy plant.

Many organic drugs have a high abuse potential, including those already listed. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 42.8 percent of people aged 12 and over reported abusing marijuana at some point in life. Salvia, psilocybin, peyote and kratom are abused less frequently, though they are common drug choices for those seeking to escape reality.

Because organic drugs may differ from each other so greatly, the side effects of each substance also vary greatly. Peyote, psilocybin and salvia are all hallucinogens, so they cause hallucinations, loss of appetite, numbness, weakness or tremors. Marijuana may cause much different effects, including altered perception, impaired coordination, disrupted memory, impaired problem solving and increased heart rate.

What Are Synthetic Drugs?

On the other hand, synthetic drugs are not derived from an organic source, but they are instead created through a chemical synthesis. This includes drugs like methamphetamine, MDMA, ketamine, PCP and LSD. Many opioid painkillers are either somewhat or fully synthetic. These opioids, including oxycodone and fentanyl, are made to mimic organic opiates.

Countless synthetic drugs are used either illegally or for medical purposes. While many synthetic drugs are known to have abuse potential, this is not true of all of them. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are synthetic drugs that lack abuse potential and do not lead to addiction. LSD has a high abuse potential, but is not physically addictive. Methamphetamine, Ritalin, oxycodone and Valium all have a high abuse potential, and they are also very addictive.

Much like organic drugs, synthetic drugs create side effects that can be very different from each other. For example, methamphetamine is associated with side effects like increased energy, decreased appetite, weight loss, nausea, irritability and paranoia. Ketamine may cause a completely different set of side effects, including confusion, itching, tiredness, weakness, rash and severe respiratory depression.

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