Research chemicals

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JWH-018 powder as it was commonly sold online

Research chemicals (also called RCs, experimental chemicals, legal highs or designer drugs) are psychoactive substances which have undergone little to no scientific or medical studies.[1]

Vendors often use the term "research chemical" to bypass legal restrictions for selling psychoactive compounds. Research chemicals commonly come in packaging labelled "not for human consumption" and are stated to be solely used for the purposes of scientific research.

Most information about them is based on first-hand experiences and anecdotal evidence. Research chemicals have chemical structures and effects to many illicit substances and are often invented to improve upon existing psychoactive substances, or more commonly, bypass government regulation.[2]

The use of research chemicals carries more risks than the use of more common, well-studied drugs mainly because of the lack of medical investigation. There have been multiple deaths caused by research chemicals, including drugs in the NBOMe series, Bromo-DragonFLY[3], 2C-T-7, and others.

Toxicity and harm potential

The safety profile of research chemicals is generally unknown due to a lack of medical studies. There is little to no information on the toxicity, negative health risks, long-term side effects, or lethal dosage of these chemicals, which make their use riskier than the use of more common, well-studied substances. It is for this reason that taking these chemicals for extended periods of time, binging on them, and taking excessive doses is strongly discouraged.

In terms of known risk factors, common issues for research chemicals include the mislabeling, misidentification, and misrepresentation of products, the adulteration of other compounds, and issues of purity.[4]

Combining research chemicals presents a risk due to the lack of research and understanding of their pharmacological and toxicological effects. For example, if a research chemical has MAOI effects (like 2C-T-7), this could make it dangerous to combine it with other MAOIs, stimulants and certain substances which release serotonin or dopamine. It is recommended to avoid blends or branded products if the active psychoactive compounds are not listed on the labeling.[5]

Several fatal overdoses have occurred due to Bromo-DragonFLY accidentally being mislabelled by online vendors as both 2C-B-FLY[6] and 2C-E.[7][8] The former is active in the 200-800μg range and is significantly more potent than 2C-E.

Situations like this can be avoided by dosing a minuscule amount of a drug (roughly 0.5 milligrams) and waiting for several hours. This is known as an "allergy test". It is recommended to do this for all new batches of substances.

Anecdotal evidence from people who have tried research chemicals within the community suggest that there do not seem to be any negative health effects attributed to simply trying research chemicals at low to moderate doses by themselves and using them sparingly. However, nothing can be guaranteed. For example, in one extreme case, the research chemical MPPP was found in some cases to contain an impurity called MPTP, which caused brain damage that resulted in a syndrome identical to Parkinson's disease from only a single dose.[1]

Pharmacological deaths

Pharmacological deaths are fatalities caused by the direct action of the chemical in the body and do not include deaths as a result of inebriated behavior. The content below is an incomplete list.

Synthetic cannabinoids

  • MDMB-FUBINACA - MDMB-FUBINACA has gained a reputation as the most deadly synthetic cannabinoid drug sold to date.[9] At least 1000 hospitalisations and 40 deaths have been linked to this drug in media and government reports as of March 2015.[10][11]




  • Acetylfentanyl - Between March 2013 and May 2013, 14 overdose deaths related to injected acetylfentanyl had occurred in Rhode Island. After confirming five overdoses in one county, including a fatality, Pennsylvania asked coroners and medical examiners across the state to screen for acetylfentanyl, which led to 50 confirmed fatalities and five non-fatal overdoses statewide in 2013.[27][28] Another 5 deaths were reported in Jefferson Parish, New Orleans,[29] along with three more in North Carolina.[30]
  • AH-7921- In a 2014 study which investigated nine fatalities in which AH-7921 was involved, it was concluded that poly-drug use was not a major contributing factor for the deaths and that a more important factor was the person's tolerance to opiates, which led to an overdose when the drug was taken in excessive amounts.[31]
  • U-47700 - Combined consumption of U-47700 and fentanyl caused one fatality in Belgium.[32] Individual consumption of U-47700 caused one fatality in Ireland.[33] At least 17 opioid overdoses and several deaths in the USA have also been connected with the use of U-47700.[34]


See also


  • King, L. A., & Kicman, A. T. (2011). A brief history of ‘new psychoactive substances’. Drug Testing and Analysis, 3(7‐8), 401-403.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Research Chemical FAQ - Experimental and Research Chemicals used as Psychoactives by Erowid & Murple v 1.6 - Jun 4, 2010 (Erowid) |
  2. Interview with a Ketamine Chemist By Hamilton Morris (Vice) |
  3. Bromo-Dragonfly Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid |
  4. Experimental & Research Chemicals (Synthetic Drugs, Novel Psychoactive Substances, New Psychoactive Substances, NPS, Replacement Psychoactives) (Erowid) |
  5. Research Chemicals (Tripsit) |
  6. 6.0 6.1 Information on Reported Deaths Related to 2C-B-FLY Misidentified Substance is Most Likely Bromo-dragonfly by the Erowid Crew v1.6 - Nov 9, 2009 |
  7. 7.0 7.1 Bromo-Dragonfly Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid |
  8. 8.0 8.1 Second Victim Dies After Taking Designer Drug In Konawa |
  9. Identification and analytical characteristics of synthetic cannabinoids with an indazole-3-carboxamide structure bearing a N-1-methoxycarbonylalkyl group. |
  10. 25 killed, over 700 hospitalized: Cheap ‘Spice’ designer drug causes severe poisoning across Russia |
  11. "Clinical presentations of intoxication by new psychoactive compound MDMB(N)-Bz-F. Thesis of The II Scientific and Practical Seminar 'Methodical, Organizational and Law Problems of Chemical and Toxicological Laboratories of Narcological Services', Moscow" (in Russian). |
  12. AMT (Alphamethyltryptamine, IT-290) Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid |
  13. Boland DM, Andollo W, Hime GW, Hearn WL. “Fatality due to acute alpha-methyltryptamine intoxication”. J Anal Toxicol. 2005 Jul-Aug;29(5):394-7. |
  14. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, opioid analgesics and serotonin toxicity |
  15. DOC (2,5-Dimethoxy-ChloroAmphetamine) Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid |
  16. A Reported 2C-T-7 Death by Erowid July 2003 |
  17. Second Reported 2C-T-7 Death by Erowid Apr 2, 2001 |
  18. Third Confirmed 2C-T-7 Death by Erowid Apr 10, 2001 |
  19. Sulfur-Substituted α-Alkyl Phenethylamines as Selective and Reversible MAO-A Inhibitors:  Biological Activities, CoMFA Analysis, and Active Site Modeling |
  20. 25I-NBOMe (2C-I-NBOMe) Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid |
  21. Other or Unknown NBOMe Compound Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid |
  22. 25C-NBOMe (2C-C-NBOMe) Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid |
  23. Japanese Death Associated with 5-MeO-DIPT by Erowid v1.1 May 4, 2006 |
  24. Bromo-Dragonfly Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid |
  25. A fatal poisoning involving Bromo-Dragonfly. |
  26. Elliott SP, Brandt SD, Wallach J, Morris H, Kavanagh PV. “First Reported Fatalities Associated with the 'Research Chemical' 2-Methoxydiphenidine”. J Anal Toxicol. 2015 May;39(4):287-293. |
  27. Ogilvie, Laurie, Christina Stanley, Lauren Lewis, Molly Boyd, Matthew Lozier, Matthew Lozier. "Notes from the Field: Acetyl Fentanyl Overdose Fatalities — Rhode Island, March–May 2013". Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 11 November 2013. |
  28. Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. "Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs warns about acetyl fentanyl: drug caused at least 50 fatalities in 2013 in Pennsylvania.". Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. |
  29. Grunfeld, David (November 1, 2013). "Couple found dead in Old Metairie home killed by lethal new synthetic drug". | The Times-Picayune. Retrieved 28 March 2014. |
  30. "DHHS Issues Health Advisory for Deadly New Synthetic Drug". NC DHHS Press Releases. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved 27 August 2014. |
  31. Fatal Intoxications Associated with the Designer Opioid AH-7921 |
  32. Twee doden in België door overdosis met fentanylpleisters |
  33. U-47700 death |
  34. Synthetic opiate makers stay step ahead of US drug laws as overdose cases rise (the guardian) |