Drugs A to Z

This resource has undergone expert review.

Emerging Drugs: Factsheet

  • Psychoactive Substances
Year: Year 9–10, Year 11–12

What are Emerging Drugs?

In recent years, many ‘new’ drugs have arrived on the market. These are often advertised as ‘legal highs’ , despite the fact that in many cases they are not legal. These substances are also marketed as ‘synthetic drugs’, ‘party pills’, ‘research chemicals’, or ‘plant food’, and are often used instead of other illegal drugs. They are sometimes sold in stores or online and marketed as ‘legal’ and ‘safe’. However, many contain ingredients that are actually illegal and can be very dangerous.

Continual changes to these products make it hard to know what they contain, what the effects will be and what potential impact they make have on users in the short and long term. Current substances include:

Type of Substance Examples Street Names Attempt to copy the effects of
Synthetic Cannabinoids “Herbal Smoking Blends" K2, Spice, Kronik, Northern Lights Cannabis
Synthetic Cathinones




Meow Meow, M-Kat


Ivory Wave, Bath Salts

MDMA/Ecstasy, methamphetamine
Synthetic Piperazines BZP, TFMPP A2, Rapture MDMA/Ecstasy, methamphetamine, hallucinogens
Substituted Phenethylamines

2C-x family: 2C-l, 2C-B

NBOMe family: 25l-NBOMe, 25B-NBOMe, 25C-NBOMe.



Trypstacy, Bromo, TWO’s


Death on Impact

Benzo Fury

MDMA/Ecstasy, methamphetamine, hallucinogens
Dissociative Anaesthetics Methoxetamine MXE, Moxy Ketamine
Substituted Tryptamines 5-MeO-DMT Foxy Hallucinogens

One pill (or package) may contain a mixture of different substances. Emerging drugs are sold under a wide range of different names and the list is always growing. As of 2019 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified at least 900 emerging drugs. Names changes frequently and people who use these drugs cannot be sure about what they're getting as the packaging doesn't guarantee what's inside.

You never know what's in a pill

What are the effects of Emerging Drugs?

Taking these is like a roll of the dice — they haven't been around long enough to know what the immediate risks are or what might happen in the long run to people who use them. However, it is known that a small number of people have died from using some types of new drugs.

The effects of new drugs can be immediate or long-term, as listed in the table below.


  • Increased heart rate and body temperature
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Feeling of euphoria (a 'high')
  • Twitches and tremors
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Confusion
  • A 'comedown' (see glossary of terms)
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't really there)
  • Overdose
  • Serotonin syndrome (see glossary of terms)
  • Paranoia and psychosis
  • Seizures.

Long Term

Early information from research suggests that these new drugs may lead to a range of problems including:

  • Dependence (addiction)
  • Memory problems
  • Paranoia (feeling extremely suspicious and frightened)
  • Psychosis (see glossary).

Evidence Base

This factsheet was developed following expert review by researchers at the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use at the University of Sydney, the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, and the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University.

Download attachment for more information and a list of sources.

  • Credit to 2and2 for You never know what's in a pill infographic

Page last reviewed: 7 February 2020.