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Synthetic cathinones, more commonly known as “bath salts,” are synthetic (human-made) drugs chemically related to cathinone, a stimulant found in the khat plant. Khat is a shrub grown in East Africa and southern Arabia, and people sometimes chew its leaves for their mild stimulant effects. Synthetic variants of cathinone can be much stronger than the natural product and, in some cases, very dangerous (Baumann, 2014).
Synthetic cathinones are included in a group of drugs that concern public health officials called “new psychoactive substances” (NPS). NPS are unregulated psychoactive (mind-altering) substances that have become newly available on the market and are intended to copy the effects of illegal drugs. Some of these substances may have been around for years but have reentered the market in altered chemical forms or due to renewed popularity.
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 (see “Synthetic Cathinones and Molly“).
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.” Also sometimes labeled as “plant food,” “jewelry cleaner,” or “phone screen cleaner,” people can buy them online and in drug paraphernalia stores under a variety of brand names, which include:
- Cloud Nine
- Lunar Wave
- Vanilla Sky
- White Lightning
- ScarfacePeople typically swallow, snort, smoke, or inject synthetic cathinones.
- People typically swallow, snort, smoke, or inject synthetic cathinones.
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 cravings—uncontrollable urges to use the drug again. Taking synthetic cathinones often may cause strong withdrawal symptoms that include:
- problems sleeping
- Baumann MH. Awash in a sea of ‘bath salts’: implications for biomedical research and public health. Addiction.2014;109(10):1577-1579.
- Baumann MH, Partilla JS, Lehner KR, et al. Powerful cocaine-like actions of 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a principal constituent of psychoactive ‘bath salts’ products. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013;38(4):552-562.