Synthetic Cathinones

This large group of new psychoactive substances, also known as "bath salts", usually come as a pill, capsule or whitish powder or crystal. They are generally stimulants. There is often little evidence about short or long term effects.

Be advised that these substances are being mis-sold as MDMA (as a pill, capsule or powder) or cocaine which greatly increases the risk of overdose. Common synthetic cathinones include N-ethylpentalone, mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), methylone, mexedrone, and Alpha PVP.

What it feels like

The effects and toxicity of each cathinone are distinct but mostly have similar effects to MDMA or methamphetamine. However, a lower active dose compared to traditional drugs increase the risk of overdose. Paranoia and anxiety are more common. People sometimes say that many of these drugs can "drop you" suddenly whereby the pleasant feelings end abruptly with unpleasant comedown feelings starting too soon.

The comedown from cathinones depends on what cathinone you took and how much. Symptoms include anxiety, low mood, difficulty sleeping, irritability and difficulty concentrating. Some of these feelings continue after the drug has worn off and can last two to four days.

How to be safer

  • Firstly, keep in mind that all drug use can be harmful and cause problems.
  • Be safer by taking extra care not to use too much. An active dose of a synthetic cathinone is low (some as low as 10mg which is a tenth of MDMA) and more may bring on unpleasant effects. Use a small, weighed out, amount first and wait to feel the full effects before you consider having more.
  • Research the synthetic cathinone you have. Find its effects and dosage on Tripsit. If you don't know which one you have, ask KnowYourStuffNZ to identify it.
  • Avoid snorting synthetic cathinones as your body can’t respond as easily compared to swallowing it if you have too much.
  • The best way to keep safe is to plan, know your limits, limit your use, and be informed. Go out with people you trust, know how you are getting home, and where you are staying afterwards.

When to get help

If someone appears unconscious or is in distress after taking a synthetic cathinone they need your help.

  1. Ask loudly if they are OK. Shake them gently if they appear unconscious.
  2. If they are not responsive, dial 111 and request an ambulance
  3. Check they are breathing and place them in a stable side position. If they are not breathing, start chest compressions.

If they're responsive, do not leave them alone and listen to what they say. Don't force them to do anything they don't want to do.

Always call 111 for an ambulance if someone:

  • is unconscious
  • stops breathing
  • has a seizure
  • is extremely agitated for longer than 15 minutes
  • has chest pain or breathing difficulties for longer than 5 minutes.

Things to look out for

  1. You may not know you have a synthetic cathinone if you were mis-sold it as MDMA or another drug. For this reason, it is best to have your party drugs checked by KnowYourStuffNZ. If this is not possible, a safer rule of thumb is to use a small amount initially and wait for the full effect before taking more.   
  2. You may feel like taking more when you come off the high which doesn't last as long as other drugs. It's easy to fall into a pattern of re-dosing which, if unchecked, can develop into dependence.
  3. Withdrawal can last days or weeks depending on how much and how often the drug was used. There are a range of common symptoms:
  • cravings
  • sweats
  • dehydration
  • irritability
  • sleeping problems
  • feeling emotional/low mood
  • difficulty concentrating.
Seek help to manage more serious withdrawal symptoms such as:
  • difficulty stopping use
  • weight loss
  • suicidal feelings
  • paranoia, anxiety and panic attacks
  • uncontrollable anger.

Synthetic cathinoes have resulted in a number of New Zealanders experiencing life threatening reactions including serious psychological distress requiring hospitalisation.

Stopping or cutting down

You could have a substance use disorder if you are:

  • using synthetic cathinones more than you want to
  • finding it hard to stop
  • missing school, work or family commitments
  • always thinking about synthetic cathinones
  • need to use a lot to get the same effect.

SEE ALSO: Rethinking my use

If you decide to stop or cut back, you are likely to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. It can be very difficult stopping because withdrawal can come on very quickly. Talk to a trusted friend or family member about your plan and ask them to look out for you and support you.

Tips for cutting down include buying less so you use less, delaying your first session of the day, or using a smaller amount than usual.