Designer drugs are synthetic substances engineered to mimic the pharmacological effects of illegal drugs. By changing their chemical structure, people who produce designer drugs hope to disguise their true nature and avoid legal consequences for selling and distributing them. 

There are several reasons why this strategy may not work on a long-term basis. According to the Federal Register, the Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency has the responsibility to place drugs on the schedules he deems most appropriate. This means that if there are not restrictions on the substance yet, there may be eventually. Furthermore, if a substance meets certain criteria, the DEA can treat it as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substance Analogue Act even if it is not currently on any schedule. 

Synthetic cannabinoids 

Synthetic cannabinoids go by brand names such as Spice or K2. People also know them colloquially as potpourri or “herbal incense.” People who produce these substances intend them to mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. In an attempt to avoid criminal prosecution, retail sellers, manufacturers and distributors label the packages “not for human consumption.” Despite such attempts to make the products appear legal, Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act lists 26 of them. Many others become Schedule I substances by default because they meet the definition of a cannabimimetic agent. 

Designer cathinones 

These substances mimic the effects of stimulant drugs, such as ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine. Designer cathinones appear as crystals or gelatin capsules containing the substances in their powdered form. Like K2 and other synthetic cannabinoids, they may bear labels reading “not for human consumption.” To disguise their true nature, people who make or sell them market them under innocuous names such as glass cleaner, plant food or bath salts. Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act lists two synthetic cathinones explicitly. However, the Controlled Substance Analogue Act applies to others, allowing law enforcement to treat them as Schedule I substances for purposes of prosecution.