Synthetic Cathinones: Effects, Addiction & Treatment

In 2021, an estimated 659,000 people reported the use of synthetic stimulants, including synthetic cathinones or “bath salts.” These dangerous drugs are sometimes categorized as novel psychoactive substances (NPS) and sold as unregulated versions of their illicit counterparts.1,2

Read on to learn more about the effects and risks of using synthetic cathinones and how to get help for drug addiction at Recovery First.

What Are Synthetic Cathinones?

Synthetic cathinones or “bath salts” are man-made central nervous system stimulants designed to mimic the psychoactive effects of other drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, and ecstasy, and they are often marketed as cheaper alternatives to these illicit substances.2

cathinones are chemically similar to cathinone, a naturally occurring stimulant that comes from the khat plant native to East Africa and southern Arabia.2

Although they are commonly referred to as “bath salts,” synthetic cathinones have no relation to Epsom salts or other products used for bathing. Synthetic cathinones are sometimes labeled as other household products like plant food, jewelry cleaner, or phone screen cleaner—potentially with disclaimers such as “not for human consumption.”2–4

These labels are meant to circumvent drug laws that prohibit the sale and consumption of dangerous substances. As a result, synthetic cathinones and other designer drugs once remained largely unregulated and could historically be purchased on the internet and at places like gas stations, smoke shops, and convenience stores.2–4

But despite their once unregulated status, these substances are often highly potent and toxic and should not be considered safe.2

Bath salts have reportedly been sold in small plastic or foil packages containing white or brown crystalline powder. These powders can also be pressed into tablets and capsules. People use synthetic cathinones by snorting, swallowing, smoking, or injecting them.2–4

Types of Synthetic Cathinones

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has banned many of the most common types of synthetic cathinones, including:3,5,6

  • Alpha-PVP (aka “Flakka” or “Gravel”).
  • Eutylone.
  • 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV).
  • Mephedrone (aka “Drone” or “Meow Meow”).
  • Methcathinone.
  • Methylone.
  • Pentylone.

These synthetic cathinones are all classified as Schedule I controlled substances, meaning they have no approved medical uses and a high potential for abuse.7,8

However, although lawmakers have worked to restrict the sale of these drugs, manufacturers have historically tweaked and reintroduced new formulas to evade regulation and law enforcement efforts.2,6

Effects of Synthetic Cathinones

Synthetic cathinones can have multiple adverse health effects, such as:2,3

  • Insomnia.
  • Irritability.
  • Confusion or slowed thinking.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Paranoia.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Dizziness.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Chest pain.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Reduced motor control.

People who use bath salts may also experience what has been described as “excited delirium,” which can involve extreme agitation and violent behavior.

People who experience delirium may additionally become significantly dehydrated and at risk for muscle tissue breakdown (rhabdomyolysis) and related kidney injury.2

Synthetic Cathinone Risks & Dangers

Using synthetic cathinones poses serious risks to a person’s health and well-being, including the risk of overdose or death.

These drugs can be extremely powerful. One study found that one of the most common types of bath salts, MDPV, affects the brain in a similar way to cocaine, but is at least 10 times more potent.11   

Synthetic cathinones may also be associated with an increased risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases, if they are used via injectable routes with nonsterile needles.3

Synthetic Cathinone Overdose Symptoms

There have also been reports of fatal overdoses and death caused by synthetic cathinone use.

An overdose is a medical emergency. If you think you or someone else is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately.

Signs of a possible synthetic cathinone overdose may include:6,11

  • Paranoia.
  • Delusions.
  • Agitation.
  • Aggression or violent behavior.
  • Extremely high body temperature.
  • Muscle weakness, pain, or cramping (symptoms of rhabdomyolysis).
  • Seizures.

Are Synthetic Cathinones Addictive?

Yes, research indicates that synthetic cathinones can be reinforcing of compulsive use and may be addictive.2

Because synthetic cathinone use is continuously evolving, the scope of addiction is largely unknown, and researchers believe the data may be underreported.6

Synthetic Cathinone Withdrawal Symptoms

People who use synthetic cathinones regularly may experience strong withdrawal symptoms if they stop or cut back their use. These symptoms can include:2

  • Paranoia.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Tremors.

Studies show that people who use bath salts often use them with other drugs and alcohol. Polysubstance use can complicate the detox process.

Someone who uses synthetic stimulants with opioids, benzodiazepines, alcohol, or other substances may need medical detox to safely manage acute withdrawal symptoms.6,12

Treating Synthetic Cathinone Addiction in Florida

If you or a loved one has developed an addiction to synthetic cathinones, professional treatment can help.

Treatment for synthetic cathinone addiction may involve different behavioral therapies, such as:2,13

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational interviewing/enhancement
  • Contingency management

Contingency management (CM) is the one evidence-based approach that has shown notable effectiveness in treating addiction to stimulants like bath salts. With CM, patients receive cash rewards and other incentives for remaining drug-free.2,3

Currently, there are no medications specifically approved to treat stimulant addiction or to manage stimulant withdrawal. Other supplemental treatment approaches that may be helpful include physical exercise, meditation, and family therapy.13

At Recovery First, we offer different types of addiction treatment and personalized care designed to meet the individual needs of each patient.

To learn more about the programs at our inpatient rehab near Miami, call us at .  Our admissions navigators are available around the clock to answer any questions you may have about using insurance to pay for rehab or other ways to pay for rehab.

You can also find out more about your specific insurance coverage by filling out this simple and secure .

When you’re ready, we are here to help you find the path to recovery. Contact us to start treatment today.


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