Synthetic cathinones

Last published: November 22, 2023

Note: Due to the lack of formal research about the use and effects of ethylone, much of this information has been informed by research on synthetic cathinones (a category of drugs that includes ethylone).

What is ethylone?

Ethylone is a synthetic cathinone which is a category of drugs related to the naturally occurring khat plant.1 Ethylone is also an empathogen. Empathogens increase an individual’s feeling of empathy and benevolence and increase feelings of being socially accepted by and connected to others.It’s effects are similar to other stimulant and empathogenic drugs such as MDMA, cocaine and amphetamines.2

The chemical structure of synthetic cathinones continue to change, this is thought to be an attempt to avoid existing legal regulations.1 Ethylone began to appear in 2011 and is a newer form of another synthetic cathinone called methylone1 which first emerged in the early 2000s.3

What does ethylone look like? Ethylone can be a clear crystal or a white powder.4

Other names

Bath Salts, plant food, research chemicals, bk-MDEA, MDEC, and 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-ethylcathinone.1

Other types of empathogens

How is ethylone used?

Research on how ethylone is used is limited, however it is reported that synthetic cathinones are most commonly snorted or swallowed.5 Injecting, smoking, inhaling, as well as administering the drugs anally have also been reported.5

Effects of ethylone

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Ethylone can affect everyone differently, based on:

  • the amount taken
  • a person’s size, weight and health
  • whether the person is used to taking it
  • whether other drugs are taken around the same time
  • the strength of the drug (which can vary from batch to batch)
  • environment (where you take the drug).

Depending on the amount taken, the following effects may be experienced and may last up to four hours:

  • euphoria
  • increased energy
  • heightened senses (sight, hearing and touch)
  • feelings of empathy and openness
  • increased sociability
  • decreased inhibition
  • sexual arousal
  • increased blood pressure
  • pupil dilation
  • reduced appetite
  • teeth or jaw clenching.5

Higher doses may result in the following adverse effects:

  • headache
  • agitation
  • insomnia
  • anxiety and paranoia
  • hallucinations
  • aggressive or violent behaviour
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • sweating and hot flushes
  • nausea and vomiting
  • cold extremities
  • dehydration
  • hyperthermia (high body temperature)
  • haemorrhage
  • psychosis
  • seizures
  • death.5

Impact of mood and environment

Drugs that affect a person’s mental state (psychoactive drugs) can also have varied effects depending on a person’s mood (often called the ‘set’) or the environment they are in (the ‘setting’):

Set: a person’s state of mind, previous encounters with empathogens, and expectations of what’s going to happen. For example, feelings of stress or anxiety before using ethylone may result in an unpleasant experience.8

Setting: the environment in which someone consumes an empathogen – whether it’s known and familiar, who they’re with, if they’re indoors or outdoors, the type of music and light. For example, using ethylone in a calm, quiet and relaxed environment can lead to, or contribute to, a pleasant experience but being in a noisy, crowded place may result in a negative experience.8

Being in a good state of mind, with trusted friends and a safe environment before taking ethylone reduces the risk of having a negative experience.

Using ethylone with other drugs

The effects of combining synthetic cathinones (such as ethylone) with other drugs – including over-the-counter or prescribed medications – can be unpredictable and dangerous. The following combinations could have the following effects:

Synthetic cathinones + ice, speed or ecstasy: increase the risk of cardiovascular (heart) problems and substance-induced psychosis.5

Synthetic cathinones + alcohol + cannabis: nausea and vomiting.6

Health and safety

If possible, find out what a common dose is of ethylone is. As ethylone is a relatively new synthetic cathinone the harm reduction advice is partly based on what is known of related drugs like amphetamines and MDMA, as not enough research has been done on ethylone specifically.

Use of ethylone is likely to be more dangerous when:

  • taken in combination with alcohol or other drugs, particularly stimulants such as crystal methamphetamine (‘ice’) or ecstasy
  • driving or operating heavy machinery
  • judgment or motor coordination is required
  • alone (in case medical assistance is required)
  • the person has a mental health condition
  • the person has an existing heart problem.

In Australia, poisons information centres and clinical toxicology units are often contacted for advice on poisonings from synthetic cathinones. Features of these poisonings include agitation, tachycardia (increased heart rate), hypertension and in severe cases delirium, aggressive behaviour, hallucinations, hyperthermia, cardiac dysrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and seizures.8

Injecting synthetic cathinones can cause soft tissue and vascular damage.

Sharing needles may also transmit:

  • Tetanus
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C

Dependence and tolerance

Currently there isn’t available information on people seeking treatment for ethylone dependence.1 However, the limited information available on people who use synthetic cathinones shows that frequent use and large doses can lead to a strong compulsion to re-dose, as well as dependence, tolerance and withdrawal.9

Getting help

If your use of ethylone is affecting your health, family, relationships, work, school, financial or other life situations, or you’re concerned about a loved one, you can find help and support.

Call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 for free and confidential advice, information and counselling about alcohol and other drugs

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In Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria there is now a ‘blanket ban’ on possessing or selling any substance that has a psychoactive effect other than alcohol, tobacco and food.

In other states and territories in Australia specific New Psychoactive Substances (including synthetic cathinones) are banned and new ones are regularly added to the list. This means that a drug that was legal to sell or possess today, may be illegal tomorrow. The substances banned differ between these states/territories.

See also, drugs and the law.

  1. Lee D, Chronister, C., Hoyer, J., & Goldberger, B. Ethylone-Related Deaths: Toxicological Findings. 39. 2015;7:567-71.
  2. de Dios M, Monteagudo, E., Trabsa. A., Grifell, L., Galindo, L., Quintana, P.,Palma, A., Ventura, M., Sanagustin, D., Pérez, S. & Torrens, M.,. Ethylone: A synthetic cathinone emerging in Barcelona. European Psychiatry. 2017;41.
  3. German C, Fleckenstein, A. & Hanson G. Bath salts and synthetic cathinones: An emerging designer drug phenomenon. Life Sciences. 2013;97(1):2-8.
  4. World Health Organization. Ethylone Critical Review Report2016:[23 p.].
  5. Paillet-Loilier M, Cesbron, A., Le Boisselier, R., Bourgine, J. & Debruyne, D.,. Emerging drugs of abuse: current perspectives on substituted cathinones. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation,. 2014;5:37-52.
  6. Australian Government Department of Health. Poly Drug Use What You Need To Know About Mixing Drugs 2014.
  7. Drug Wise. Mephedrone, methedrone, methadrone and methylone 2016 10.11.2021].
  8. Department of Health Therapeutic Goods Administration. 1.5. alpha-Pyrrolidinovalerophenone (alpha-PVP) and related substances methylone and synthetic cathinones 2018; (02.03.20).
  9. Coppola M Mondola R. Synthetic cathinones: chemistry, pharmacology and toxicology of a new class of designer drugs of abuse marketed as "bath salts" or "plant food". Toxicolgy Letters. 2012;211(2):144-9.

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agitation, dehydration, dilated pupils, empathy, euphoria, fast heart rate, feeling energetic, headaches, heightened senses, increased blood pressure, lowered inhibitions


bath salts, plant food, research chemicals