Synthetic Cathinones (“Bath Salts”): Risks, Side Effects & Warning

What are synthetic cathinones?

Synthetic cathinones, more commonly known as “bath salts,” are human-made stimulants chemically related to cathinone, a substance found in the khat plant.

Khat is a shrub grown in East Africa and southern Arabia, where some people chew its leaves for their mild stimulant effects. Human-made versions of cathinone can be much stronger than the natural product and, in some cases, very dangerous.

Synthetic
cathinones usually take the form of a white or brown crystal-like powder and
are sold in small plastic or foil packages labeled “not for human
consumption.” They can be labeled as “bath salts,” “plant
food,” “jewelry cleaner,” or “phone screen cleaner.”

Synthetic cathinones are part of a group of drugs that concern public health officials called “new psychoactive substances” (NPS). NPS are unregulated psychoactive mind-altering substances with no legitimate medical use and are made to copy the effects of controlled substances.

They are introduced and reintroduced into the market in quick succession to dodge or hinder law enforcement efforts to address their manufacture and sale.

Synthetic
cathinones are marketed as cheap substitutes for other stimulants such as
methamphetamine and cocaine, and products sold as Molly (MDMA) often contain
synthetic cathinones instead.

People can buy synthetic cathinones online and in drug paraphernalia stores under a variety of brand names, which include: Bliss, Cloud Nine, Lunar Wave, Vanilla Sky, and White Lightning.

People typically swallow, snort, smoke, or inject synthetic cathinones.

What are the side effects of synthetic cathinones?

Much is
still unknown about how synthetic cathinones affect the human brain.
Researchers do know that synthetic cathinones are chemically similar to drugs
like amphetamines, cocaine, and MDMA.

A study found that 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a common synthetic cathinone, affects the brain in a manner similar to cocaine, but is at least 10 times more powerful.

MDPV is the most common synthetic cathinone found in the blood and urine of patients admitted to emergency departments after taking “bath salts.”

Synthetic
cathinones can produce effects that include:

  • Paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • Hallucinations—experiencing sensations and images that seem real but
    are not
  • Increased friendliness
  • Increased sex drive
  • Panic attacks
  • Excited delirium—extreme agitation and violent behavior

Raised
heart rate, blood pressure, and chest pain are some other health effects of
synthetic cathinones. People who experience delirium often suffer from
dehydration, breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, and kidney failure.

The
worst outcomes are associated with snorting or needle injection. Intoxication
from synthetic cathinones has resulted in death.

Are synthetic cathinones addictive?

Yes,
synthetic cathinones can be addictive. Animal studies show that rats will
compulsively self-administer synthetic cathinones. Human users have reported
that the drugs trigger intense, uncontrollable urges to use the drug again.
Taking synthetic cathinones can cause strong withdrawal symptoms that include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Problems sleeping
  • Paranoia

How can people get treatment for addiction to
synthetic cathinones?

Behavioral
therapy can be used to treat addiction to synthetic cathinones. Examples
include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Contingency management, or motivational incentives—providing rewards
    to patients who remain substance free
  • Motivational enhancement therapy
  • Behavioral treatments geared to teens

As with
all addictions, health care providers should screen for co-occurring mental
health conditions. While there are no FDA-approved medicines for synthetic
cathinone addiction, there are medicines available for common co-occurring
conditions.

Source: NIDA. (2018,
February 5). Synthetic Cathinones (“Bath Salts”). Retrieved from
https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cathinones-bath-salts
on 2019, April 1

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