January 20, 2019

‘Monkey dust’ – busting the myths

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What is ‘monkey dust’?

The media has described ‘monkey dust’ as a deadly new drug on the rise in Australia. But this drug isn’t new, and we have no reason to believe its use is on the rise. 

Also known as ‘bath salts’ or MDPV, it showed up on the drug market in the mid-2000s.1

‘Monkey dust’ is a synthetic cathinone – a New Psychoactive Substance (NPS) that is chemically similar to a naturally occurring mild stimulant called cathinone. There are a few synthetic cathinones which are all similar but different to natural cathinone. They also produce much stronger effects.

Their effects include feeling happy, energetic, talkative and having an intense connection to music, which is similar to the effects of MDMA or cocaine. Similar side effects can also include muscle tension, reduced appetite, restless sleep and enlarged pupils.

More harmful side effects can occur, especially at higher doses. They may include paranoia, anxiety and stomach pains.2

Drugs affect everyone differently and people can’t always predict the effect a substance or dose will have on their body. Be careful when taking any substance.

Use in Australia

The most recent information from the 2019 Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System, which provides information about emerging drug trends, shows a steady decline in the use of any synthetic cathinone since 2010.3

While that reporting is dependent on people who use drugs knowing what they’ve purchased or consumed, it seems likely that reports about a potential ‘epidemic’ of ‘monkey dust’ in Australia are exaggerated. 

It isn’t the first time that new psychoactive substances, specifically synthetic cathinones, have received misguided media attention. In the UK, several deaths were wrongly linked to another synthetic cathinone, mephedrone or ‘meow meow’, where later toxicology reports revealed that mephedrone had not been consumed at all.4

‘Monkey dust’ has been linked to a few deaths in the UK,v however it hasn’t been linked to any recent deaths at music festivals in Australia. 

Why is it concerning?

Despite the lack of evidence about increased consumption of ‘monkey dust’, people who use drugs should still be careful. 

People are likely to be in danger of more harm if synthetic cathinones are mixed with other drugs such as alcohol.6 If people unknowingly consume ‘monkey dust’ or other synthetic cathinones, the effects may be stronger than desired. 

When drugs are taken together, it changes the way that each drug effects the body. Accidentally or intentionally consuming synthetic cathinones alongside other drugs can produce unpredictable results. 

Drug checking

This is one of the reasons drug checking, also known as pill testing, is being trialled in Australia at festivals and music events as a harm reduction tool.

Drug checking is when people volunteer a tiny amount of their drugs to be tested by a forensic chemist who can identify exactly what’s in the drug. If people know what’s in their drugs, they can make a more informed choice about how much they’ll take, if they take any at all.

Talking with staff in a drug checking tent is a great opportunity to chat about a person’s drug use including advice on staying safe and where to get help if they need it.

Drug checking also provides valuable information about what’s on the market, how strong drugs are, what’s being used as filler, and what the trends are.

While there’s no safe level of drug use, exaggerating the issue can sometimes do more harm than good. It’s critical to communicate accurately about the risks and potential harms of any drug use.

An evidence-based policy is the best way to address concerns about drug trends. We can learn from the successful European model and keep trialling drug checking in Australia.8

  1. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. (2018). Synthetic Cathinones.
  2. Ibid
  3. Peacock, A., Gibbs, D., Karlsson, A., Uporova, J., Sutherland, R., Bruno, R., Dietze, P., Lenton, S., Alati, R., Degenhardt, L., & Farrell, M. (2018). Australian Drug Trends 2018: Key findings from the National Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) Interviews. Sydney, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Australia.
  4. Nutt, David 2012, “”Meow meow” – should mephedrone have been banned”, Drugs Without the Hot Air, UIT, Cambridge.
  5. Chapman, A. 2018. Monkey Dust drug lands in Australia after being declared an epidemic in the United Kingdom, The Daily Mail
  6. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. (2018). Synthetic Cathinones.
  7. Butterfield, R. J., Barratt, M. J., Ezard, N., & Day, R. O. (2016). Drug checking to improve monitoring of new psychoactive substances in Australia Drug checking may need to play a part in future public health interventions. Medical Journal of Australia, 204(4).

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