Millions of people in the United States use and misuse illicit street drugs each year.
While some street drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamine (meth), are more widely known, experts warn that new drugs are constantly entering the illicit drug market.
It’s important for those who use illegal drugs to be informed on trends within the illicit drug market, so they can exercise caution and ask for help when they need it.
Here are some of 2023 street drugs trends to watch out for:
Xylazine is a non-opioid sedative. On the illicit drug market, xylazine is called “tranq dope,” which is often cut with opioid painkillers. As of 2023, the combination of xylazine and fentanyl is particularly troubling.
Testing by the Drug Enforcement Administration and other government entities revealed that as much as 90% of drugs sold as opioids contained “tranq.”
Due to dangers identified during clinical trials, xylazine is only FDA-approved for veterinary use in some animals. In humans xylazine can cause very low blood pressure, respiratory depression, coma, and death.
What Does Xylazine Look Like?
In veterinary medicine, xylazine is most often used as a clear, injectable liquid, but it can be found as a white powder or as a pressed pill.
2. Rainbow Fentanyl
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid. Illicit forms of fentanyl have been a primary driver of drug overdose deaths, killing tens of thousands in the U.S. each year.
Although it is not a new drug, its saturation within the illicit drug market is an ongoing problem that grows as new forms and combinations make their way onto the market.
Rainbow fentanyl is a relatively new version of the drug that is designed to appeal to a younger crowd in lively social settings like raves.
Unfortunately, the drug is still highly addictive and prone to cause an overdose in people who do not have regular exposure to opioids.
What Does Rainbow Fentanyl Look Like?
Rainbow fentanyl is usually sold as pressed pills. Bags of these pills purposefully contain a variety of colors to create the rainbow effect, and the pills may also appear in “fun” shapes.
With that said, fentanyl is typically just a white powder, making it easy for illicit manufacturers to blend into almost anything to increase the potency of the product for a lower cost.
Anyone who uses drugs recreationally should obtain a fentanyl testing kit from their local harm reduction program to avoid hidden fentanyl.
3. Isotonitazene (ISO)
Isotonitazene is a powerful synthetic opioid. It’s an estimated 20 to 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, which is an already-very potent opioid drug.
Also known as ISO, isotonitazene has been identified in toxicology reports for overdose deaths that have occurred in states like Florida, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
According to the office of Florida’s State Attorney General, the drug was first identified in the United States in 2019, and has since caused numerous deaths.
What Does Isotonitazene Look Like?
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), law enforcement has most often encountered ISO in powdered form.
In a report on ISO, the World Health Organization (WHO) shares that the drug is often administered in combination with other opioids or benzodiazepines.
Carfentanil is a potent opioid that is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, and 10,000 times more potent than morphine.
What Does Carfentanil Look Like?
Like fentanyl, carfentanil is frequently cut with other substances, including drugs sold as heroin, cocaine, or meth.
It may be found in the form of a powder, tablet, patch, spray, or on blotter paper.
Phenibut is a depressant drug with effects similar to benzodiazepines like Xanax (alprazolam) or Valium (diazepam), as well as “smart drugs” like Ritalin (methylphenidate) and amphetamines (e.g. Adderall).
The drug originally comes from Russia, but it is not prescribed in the U.S. due to the risks associate with it. Despite the FDA’s attempts to regulate phenibut, it is sold in some supplements sold online.
What Does Phenibut Look Like?
Phenibut comes in the form of a dietary supplement. It may be sold as a tablet, powder, or capsule.
Flakka is an addictive and toxic stimulant that contains synthetic cathinone. Similar to bath salts, flakka can have both stimulant effects and cause psychotic symptoms.
What Does Flakka Look Like?
It comes in the form of a pale or pinkish crystal. It is sometimes referred to as “gravel” and may be vaporized, snorted, eaten, or injected.
7. Synthetic Cannabinoids
Synthetic cannabinoids are main-made compounds that bear a resemblance to the active ingredients in natural marijuana.
While some people may refer to this class of drugs as “fake weed,” these drugs are often significantly stronger and more dangerous than their leafy counterpart.
Until recently, these drugs were sold legally in smoke shops and some other retail stores under brand names like K2 and Spice. These products are now illegal.
Synthetic cannabinoids are unpredictable, as there is no standard process used to synthesize these drugs.
What Do Synthetic Cannabinoids Look Like?
Synthetic cannabinoids most often appear as a liquid that can be vaporized and inhaled. However, they may also appear as a shredded plant-like material that can be smoked.
What Are The Most Popular Street Drugs?
Cannabis, also known as marijuana, continues to be the most popular illicit drug in 2023. However, it is important to note that this drug is now legal for medical and/or recreational drug use in some states.
Other commonly used street drugs include:
- powder cocaine
- crack cocaine
- fentanyl-laced drugs
- psychedelics (magic mushrooms, LSD, PCP)
- counterfeit pills
What Are The Dangers Of Street Drug Use?
Street drugs are not regulated by the federal government, and can therefore be subject to contain any number of toxic ingredients, including highly potent and deadly drugs.
Fentanyl-laced drugs, for instance, can be fatal in small doses for someone without an opioid tolerance, as can drugs containing carfentanil or xylazine.
Other dangers can include:
- risk of bloodborne diseases (HIV, hepatitis)
- breathing problems
- irregular or erratic heart rate
- drug dependence
Risk Factors For Street Drug Overdose
The use of illicit street drugs can be deadly, even for those who have been using illicit drugs for years.
Risk factors for overdose include:
- using drugs alone
- taking multiple drugs at once
- injecting drugs
- taking opioids after a period of non-use (e.g. after jail or rehab)
Get Help For Drug Abuse Today
If you are concerned about your drug use, or that of a loved one, contact AddictionResource.net today to find quality substance abuse treatment options from a healthcare provider near you.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — Isotonitazene
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — Xylazine
- World Health Organization (WHO) — Critical Review Report: Isotonitazene