So-Called “Legal” Drugs and the Trojan Horse Game

On This Page

Are you familiar with the concept of a Trojan Horse? It’s pretty on the outside but filled with deadly enemies inside. It creates an appearance of innocence, but is designed with trickery in mind. Legal drugs are a lot like a Trojan Horse.

These synthetic drugs are designed with attractive packaging, given innocuous names, and labeled “for novelty use only” or “not for human consumption.” Once they are consumed by humans (since you know that’s really what they are created for), they show their true colors. Usage of these drugs have serious side effects, addiction and even death.

What’s Really Inside?

Users of so-called “legal” drugs don’t know what is in them…and that’s part of the problem. Manufacturers can change the contents without warning. They do this often as a way to keep the drugs “legal.” Current laws prohibit substances based on chemical components, so creators of these drugs simply alter the chemical structure enough to avoid falling under prohibition.

Pretty sneaky, right?

Because they are not approved for human use, synthetic drugs are marketed as plant foods, bath salts, potpourri and other benign products. With these labels in place, Trojan Horses are now flooding the market. In 2012 alone, 158 new synthetic substances were identified.

What’s For Sale?

Synthetic drugs come in many shapes and sizes. Taken in pill, capsule and powder form, they are designed to mimic the effects of their illegal counterparts. This has been a fairly successful effort, as the drugs can be just as addictive and can lead to organ failure, mental health problems, nervous disorders and sometimes death (just like illegal drugs.) They also have a high risk of overdose, partly due to their mystery contents.

Let’s take a look at a couple specific legal drugs on the market and their potential effects:

  • Synthetic Cannabinoids: “K2” “Spice” These imitate marijuana, consisting of a mix of plant material sprayed with chemicals to produce the desired high. They can cause anxiety, agitation, elevated blood pressure, hallucinations, psychosis and death. The Centers for Disease Control reported over 3,500 poison control calls related to synthetic marijuana in the first half of 2015.
  • Synthetic Cathinones: “Bath Salts” These synthetics replicate stimulants (amphetamines) like speed and meth. They can cause nausea, vomiting, delusions, seizures, high heart rate and death.

What’s Next?

Synthetic drugs continue to find their way into buyers’ hands through Internet sales, head shops and convenience stores. According to National Institute on Drug Abuse reports, 5.2 percent of high school seniors admitted to using Spice and 1 percent admitted to using bath salts in 2014.

As the rate of use and number of synthetic substances continue to rise, so does the risk. Manufacturers aren’t going to let go of their moneymakers easily, so they just keep changing minor ingredients and claiming their products are “safe and legal.”

If you or a loved one is fighting this Trojan Horse, help is available to rein it in. Don’t wait to seek help.

Image Source: iStock, Shutterstock

American Addiction Centers logo
Begin treatment today

The content on is brought to you by American Addiction Centers (AAC), a nationwide network of leading substance abuse and behavioral treatment facilities.

Verify Your Insurance CoverageView Our Treatment Centers

Find a rehab center near you

american addiction centers photo
The editorial staff of is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers . Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
Popular Providers