Last published: February 13, 2023
Synthetic cathinones are being sold in Victoria as MDMA, in various forms and have been linked to hospitalisations.
Pentylone has been found in brick shaped 'Nike tick' MDMA pills. Pentylone is a ‘synthetic cathinone’ that’s potent and unpredictable. Synthetic cathinones produce similar effects to common stimulants like methamphetamine or MDMA. They are often reported to produce stronger effects that wear off quicker than MDMA. This can lead to people taking more, which increases the negative effects and toxicity.
Other types of stimulants
What are synthetic cathinones?
Synthetic cathinones is the name of a category of drugs related to the naturally occurring khat plant.1 They are stimulants, meaning that they speed up the messages between the brain and the body and have similar effects to amphetamines.
Synthetic cathinones are also part of a group of drugs known as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS). NPSs are a range of drugs that first appeared on the recreational drug market in the mid 2000s, that have been designed to mimic established illicit drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD. Between 2005 and 2014 more than 81 synthetic cathinone derivatives were reported to the EU Early Warning System.2
Synthetic cathinones are mostly white or brown powders but also exist in the form of small, chunky crystals. They are sometimes found as capsules and less commonly as tablets.3
Types of cathinones commonly used
- Mephedrone (4-MMC), M-CAT)
- Alpha-Pyrrolidinovalerophenone (alpha-PVP)
How are they used?
Synthetic cathinones are usually snorted, swallowed or injected.
When taken orally the desired effects are typically seen within 15–45 minutes. After snorting the desired effect is anecdotally reported to occur within a few minutes. The effects usually last for approximately 2-4 hours.6
Effects of synthetic cathinones
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.
Synthetic cathinones 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).
The individual effects and toxicity of each cathinone are distinct and can vary greatly between each person using them.
Generally speaking, in small doses the following effects may be experienced and may last for approximately 2-4 hours:
- rush of intense pleasure
- feeling happy, energetic and wanting to talk more
- intense connection with music
- restless sleep
- muscle tension (face and jaw)
- blurred vision
- light-headedness, dizziness
- distorted sense of time
- enlarged (dilated) pupils, blurred vision
- dry mouth, thirst
- memory loss
- reduced appetite.5
Higher doses may result in the following adverse affects:
- nose bleeds from snorting the drug
- stomach pains, nausea, vomiting
- skin rashes
- fast or irregular heartbeat
- high blood pressure and hot flushes
- strong urge to re-dose
- chest pain
- tremors, convulsions, death.5
Using synthetic cathinones with other drugs
The effects of combining cathinones 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.7
- Synthetic cathinones + alcohol + cannabis: nausea and vomiting.6
Health and safety
If possible, find out the specific cathinone you are using so you know what to expect and what a common dose is. Synthetic cathinone 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 individual synthetic cathinones specifically.
Use of synthetic cathinones 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 problem
- the person has an existing heart problem.
In Australia, poisons information centres and clinical toxicology units around Australia 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 heart beat) and seizures. Deaths have occurred due to alpha-PVP toxicity.4
Injecting synthetic cathinones can cause soft tissue and vascular damage.4
Sharing needles may also transmit:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
Dependence and tolerance
There is limited data regarding people seeking treatment for synthetic cathinone dependence, however, people who use synthetic cathinones have reported a strong compulsion to redose, as well dependence.
In the days after synthetic cathinone use, the following may be experienced:
- restless sleep
- low mood
- wounds, sores taking longer to heal
- memory loss
- problems sleeping
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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.
- Drug Policy Alliance. (2016). Fact sheet: Synthetic Cathinones
- European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. (2015). Perspective on Drugs: Injection of synthetic cathinones
- Eurpean Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. (2015). Synthetic cathinones drug profile.
- Therapeutic Goods Administration. (2017). Scheduling medicines and poisons. 1.5. alpha-Pyrrolidinovalerophenone (alpha-PVP) and related substances methylone and synthetic cathinones.
- Prosser & Nelson. (2011) The Toxicology of Bath Salts: A review of Synthetic Cathinones
- DrugWise. (2016). Mephedrone, methedrone, methadrone and methylone
- Australian Government Department of Health. (n.d.) Poly Drug Use: What you need to know about mixing drugs.