Synthetic cathinones (bath salts) have many risks, including death. Learn more about the drug and its harmful effects.

Cathinone is a naturally occurring stimulant that is found in the khat plant. The khat plant is grown in East Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula. Due to cathinone’s psychoactive properties, inhabitants of these regions have traditionally chewed the khat plant leaves in order to release cathinone and experience its mild stimulant, euphoric and emotionally liberating (empathogenic) effects.

Synthetic cathinones are human-made, synthetic chemicals that mimic the effects of natural cathinone. Synthetic cathinones are classified as “new psychoactive substances” (NPS), a term used to categorize unregulated, mind-altering and psychoactive substances.

NPSs are of increasing concern due to the dangers associated with their use. Synthetic cathinones are often sold as “bath salts” or “cathinones bath salts,” and marketed as “not for human consumption” in order to bypass regulations and laws that would prohibit their sale.

Synthetic cathinones are consumed to achieve euphoric sensations and can cause paranoia, hallucinations and panic attacks. The abuse of synthetic cathinones is very dangerous and has resulted in serious injuries and deaths. Understanding the dangers associated with the use and abuse of synthetic cathinones is crucial to preventing tragic outcomes.

Names for Synthetic Cathinones

Synthetic cathinones are commonly referred to as “legal highs” because their effects mimic those of illegal and controlled substances such as ecstasycocaine, and methamphetamine.

Synthetic cathinones are sold online and at convenience stores, drug paraphernalia stores and smoke shops (also known as “head shops”). They are marketed and sold as bath salts, research chemicals, and plant food. Synthetic cathinones usually look like white or brown crystallized powder and are sold in small plastic or foil packages.

The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has identified a number of street names used to market synthetic cathinones.

Synthetic cathinones list of street names includes:
  • Bliss
  • Blue Silk
  • Cloud Nine
  • Drone
  • Energy-1
  • Ivory Wave
  • Lunar Wave
  • Meow Meow
  • Meph
  • Ocean Burst
  • Pure Ivory
  • Purple Wave
  • Red Dove
  • Snow Leopard
  • Stardust
  • Vanilla Sky
  • White Dove
  • White Knight
  • White Lightning

Risks and Dangers of Cathinone Abuse

Because synthetic cathinones are cheap and easily accessible through online and retail stores, their use is becoming increasingly popular. People who use synthetic cathinones consume them by ingesting them, sniffing, snorting, smoking, vaping or by injecting a homemade solution of them. Snorting and injecting synthetic cathinones is associated with the worst outcomes, including death due to severe intoxication.

Synthetic cathinones are used because of their euphoric and emotionally liberating (also known as empathogenic) effects. However, their desirable psychoactive effects also come with a high risk of negative psychoactive and mind-altering effects.

Desirable psychoactive effects of synthetic cathinones include:

  • Alertness
  • Overwhelming happiness
  • Increased friendliness
  • Increased sex drive
  • Increased creativity and expression
  • Excited delirium
  • Increased productivity

Negative psychoactive effects of synthetic cathinones include:

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Extreme agitation
  • Violent behavior

In addition to these negative psychoactive effects, the use of synthetic cathinones is associated with very dangerous physical side effects including:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Chest pain and heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Blood clots
  • Dehydration
  • Hypothermia
  • Kidney failure
  • Breakdown of muscle tissue
  • Physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms including depression, anxiety, tremors, problems sleeping and paranoia
  • Coma
  • Death

In addition to these dangerous effects, there is also a high risk for people who use synthetic cathinones to become addicted and dependent. Animal studies with rats have shown that synthetic cathinones produce an urge to continue to self-administer synthetic cathinones regardless of the negative side effects.

Anyone that experiences any of these psychoactive or physical side effects after using synthetic cathinones should seek immediate medical attention in order to prevent serious injury or death.

Cathinone Abuse Facts & Statistics

The stimulant and euphoric effects of naturally occurring cathinone were first documented by a botanist in the 18th century. Designer drugs, a category of substances that are chemically modified versions of naturally occurring substances, started to be synthesized by chemists for various purposes in the early 20th century. The first synthetic cathinone with reports of abuse was methcathinone in the early 1990s. Since then, many more synthetic cathinones have been manufactured and have been identified by authorities around the world.

While synthetic cathinones are not as widely used as other drugs, in 2011 there was a drastic increase of use with nearly 23,000 emergency room visits related to synthetic cathinones and 6,200 calls to poison control centers about exposures to synthetic cathinones.

Following government action taken in 2011 and 2012 to deter the manufacturing of the synthetic cathinones most commonly reported for abuse (methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone and methylone), abuse has decreased. Current population surveys estimate that only about 1% or less of the US population reports using synthetic cathinones.

Teenagers and young adults are most likely to abuse synthetic cathinones. This is largely due to the drug’s low cost, accessibility, ability to evade drug tests and effectiveness for a euphoric experience. A study of the use of synthetic cathinones among a sample of high school seniors identified that nearly 20% of teenagers who used synthetic cathinones did so on 40 or more occasions in the last 12 months. The National Institute on Drug Abuse continues to monitor the use of synthetic cathinones, as well as other drugs and substances, among 8th graders to 12th graders in the “Monitoring the Future Study.”

Get Help for Cathinone Addiction

Treatment is available for addiction to synthetic cathinones. There are supportive measures in healthcare settings that can properly manage the side effects of synthetic cathinones and the withdrawal symptoms associated with abuse.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy has proven successful in synthetic cathinone addiction treatment. It is very important to seek the help of trained healthcare professionals when working toward recovery. Trained healthcare professionals can screen for and identify co-occurring mental health conditions that may be responsible for the tendency to abuse dangerous substances such as synthetic cathinones.

If you or someone you know is suffering from synthetic cathinone addiction or side effects from the use of synthetic cathinones, it is important to seek immediate medical attention from trained healthcare providers in order to prevent potentially tragic outcomes.

Key Points: Cathinones

Some key points to keep in mind about cathinone and synthetic cathinones are:

  • Synthetic cathinones, commonly referred to as “bath salts,” are chemically manufactured substances designed to mimic the effects of cathinone, a naturally-occurring stimulant found in the khat plant.
  • Synthetic cathinones’ effects mimic those of illegal and controlled substances such as ecstasy, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
  • Synthetic cathinones are sold online, in convenience stores and in head shops under various brand names including Bliss, Cloud Nine, Ivory Wave, Meow Meow, Pure Ivory, Vanilla Sky, and White Dove.
  • People typically snort, swallow, smoke or inject synthetic cathinones.
  • There are many risks and dangers associated with the abuse of synthetic cathinones including paranoia, hallucinations, violent behavior, and panic attacks.
  • Snorting and injecting synthetic cathinones are associated with the worst outcomes, including death, due to severe intoxication.
  • There are currently no medications available to treat addiction to synthetic cathinones; however, behavioral therapy has been successful in the treatment of addiction to synthetic cathinones.

Help and treatment options are available for synthetic cathinone addiction as well as addiction to other synthetic substances of abuse. The Recovery Village has trained medical professionals and addiction specialists who can develop a course of treatment specific to you or your loved one. Call our representatives today to start your path to recovery.   

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Editor – Gretchen Koebbe
Gretchen Koebbe is a writing and reading specialist based out of Detroit. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Kathleen Oroho Linskey, PharmD
Kathleen is a licensed pharmacist in New Jersey. She earned her Doctorate of Pharmacy from Rutgers University. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.