Last updated: November 27, 2023
Thankfully, reports of drug busts and emergency room visits involving synthetic cathinone aren’t flooding our media here in the United States—but we can’t let our guard down. In February, ten men were arrested for possessing and distributing synthetic cathinone throughout Salt Lake County. Media attention focused on the drug again in July with reports of it wreaking havoc in the Florida bar scene. At about the same time, news that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers intercepted a 70-pound shipment of synthetic cathinone coming from China and headed for Washington, D.C. broke.
The fact that reports have come in from various locations around the nation is proof that synthetic cathinone is available on the black market. Oftentimes, buyers believe they’re purchasing cocaine, however, this counterfeit stimulant is created using harmful chemicals.
These drugs are dangerous
Cathinone is a stimulant found in the khat plant. It grows in East Africa and on the southern Arabian Peninsula. Cathinone has psychoactive properties and residents of these regions of the world traditionally chewed khat leaves to release the stimulant. In small doses, the drug creates pleasant feelings of euphoria.
Synthetic versions of cathinone were created to mimic the effects of natural cathinone. Classified as “new psychoactive substances” (NPS), these drugs are unregulated and mind-altering. And, as previously mentioned above, are often sold as counterfeit cocaine or cut into other drugs to enhance the high.
Dealers do it to encourage repeat business. However, customers aren’t made aware of that fact so dealers risk losing business if the customer overdoses. Or winds up in a psych ward or detained by law enforcement.
Users risk addiction and overdose, especially as the body builds up a tolerance because in order to achieve the desired effect users must continuously increase their dosage. However, taking high doses of synthetic cathinone greatly increases the risk of bizarrely violent psychotic behaviors that often target innocent bystanders.
Moreover, acts of violence are often accompanied by the user appearing to possess superhuman strength. Many of these people wind up in a psych ward for a very long time—if they’re ever released at all.
Self-harming behaviors can occur spontaneously as well. Users putting themselves in imminent danger by darting into traffic, jumping from high places, or other extreme scenarios is also frequently reported.
A long list of side effects
Users can snort, swallow, or inject synthetic cathinone. When taken orally, the drug typically begins to take effect withing 15 to 45 minutes. Snorting it allows the user to begin experiencing effects within a few minutes.
Side effects include:
- A rush of intense pleasure
- Feelings of euphoria
- Bursts of energy
- Intense connection with music
- Restless sleep
- Muscle tension—especially in the face and jaw
- Blurred vision
- Light-headedness, dizziness
- Distorted sense of time
- Dilated pupils
- Dry mouth
- Memory loss
- Reduced appetite
In addition to violent tendencies and bizarre behaviors, higher doses of this drug result in the following adverse affects:
- Nose bleeds if snorting the drug
- Stomach Pain
- Skin rashes
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Strong urge to re-dose
- Tremors and convulsions
Moreover, mixing synthetic cathinone with the following drugs increases the risk of harm.
- Opioids—increases the risk of heart strain and respiratory arrest
- MDMA, otherwise known as Ecstasy—causes anxiety, heart strain, and increased neurotoxic effects
- Cocaine—can cause anxiety, heart strain, and possible stroke
- Benzodiazepines—user at high risk of overdose, because taken together, masks the effects of both drugs
- Alcohol—the stimulant masks the effects of alcohol which leads to possible alcohol poisoning
The euphoric effects of the drug last only two to four hours, Coming down completely, however, takes days and users can experience any or all of the following during that time:
- Restless sleep
- Memory loss
Intense withdrawal symptoms
People who use synthetic cathinone over an extended period of time can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it. The severity of the symptoms depends on the length of time it was ingested.
Common withdrawal symptoms hit the user hard and can include any or all of the following:
- Intense cravings
- Gastric distress
- Difficulty sleeping
- Violent or unpredictable behavior
Psychological withdrawal symptoms exist as well, though, and typically include:
- Trouble concentrating
Withdrawal symptoms can last between 48 hours to one week with the severity lessening as time progresses. However, there are reported cases of the psychological symptoms persisting for weeks after ceasing use. The desire to use again to alleviate symptoms causes many to relapse.
Inpatient therapy may be best
Synthetic cathinone alters the central nervous system’s functionality by disrupting neurotransmitters that control feelings of physical and mental well-being. Over time, the body and brain accept its presence considering it to be a “normal” occurrence. When it can’t find the drug in its system, the brain begins to send out alerts that exhibit as withdrawal symptoms. Intense cravings coupled with physical and mental discomfort send many recovering addicts into relapse.
It’s for that reason that detoxing in an inpatient facility may afford the best results.
Educate the public
As stated at the beginning of the article, for the moment reports of this extremely dangerous illicit drug being distributed and used in the United States are sporadic. Spreading the word regarding the dangers of abuse and addiction—and the possibility of ending up on a psychotic ward indefinitely—can be the catalyst people need to keep them away from using synthetic cathinone.
Hopefully, learning that drug cartels use it in all types of their products without acknowledging it in any way may cause them to rethink using drugs at all.
And that’s our ultimate goal.