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Synthetic cathinones mimic other more commonly known drugs, yet are more harmful and toxic. These drugs are made in laboratories and are similar to cathinone, which is made from the khat plant. They are often called ‘bath salts’ as they were known as this overseas and come as a white crystal or powder. Very little is known about the risk of harm from short or long term use and deaths have been linked to these drugs in New Zealand.
Examples found in New Zealand include: mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), methylone, mexedrone, pentylone, and Alpha PVP with the number of different types and quantity found increasing. People may be mis-sold these drugs as MDMA (in pill or capsule form) or cocaine as they have a stimulant effect but are much more toxic.
Cathinones are a broad type of drug that have similar effects to amphetamines. The individual effects and toxicity of each cathinone are distinct and can vary greatly between each person using them.
Using cathinones in small amounts can make you feel energetic and euphoric. Feelings of a racing heart, anxiety, confusion, and teeth grinding are also common. In higher doses it can bring on feelings of paranoia, delusions, blurry vision and a risk of causing psychosis.
Most cathinones have an active effect for a few hours with a very strong desire to use the drug repeatedly, increasing the likelihood of experiencing unpleasant effects or significant harm.
The withdrawal or ‘comedown’ from using cathinones is based on how much is used and the specific cathinone. People may experience feeling anxious, having a low mood, difficulty sleeping, being irritable and difficulty concentrating. These feelings can continue after the drug has worn off and last for a few days after using.
All drug use brings a risk of harm. Cathinones are particularly dangerous as very little is known about them, they are difficult to identify, and the risk of overdose is high.
It only takes a small amount of a cathinone to have an effect. The difference between how much to get you high and how much could ruin your night, or worse be fatal is narrow and difficult to judge.
If possible, find out the specific cathinone you are using so you know what to expect and what a common dose is. You can find out what drug it is by using a reagent test for the more common cathinones but will need to use a drug checking service for less common or newer types. Check TripSit for detailed information on specific cathinones.
For most cathinones a common dose is around 10mg which is a tenth of a common MDMA dose. Only use a small, weighed out, amount first and wait to feel the full effects before considering to use more. Avoid snorting cathinones as your body can’t respond if you have used too much.
Mixing drugs is always risky because it is hard to predict how they will interact and increases the chance of experiencing negative effects, overdose or even death. Cathinones can be mixed with other substances, greatly increasing the risk of overdose, or even death. Using other stimulants should be avoided as this puts a lot of strain on the body.
The best way to stay safer is to plan, know your limits and be informed about how the cathinone is likely to affect you. Go out with people you trust, and know how you are getting home, or where you are staying.
There is a high risk of overdose from cathinones. A standard dose is very small and using a bit more can result in an overdose which can be fatal.
Signs of cathinone overdose include: foaming at the mouth, vomiting, bizarre behaviour, aggression, shaking, tremors or seizures, paranoia, sweating, disorientation, pain in stomach, chest or kidney area, loss of consciousness/unresponsiveness, extreme body temperature.
Call 111 if you or someone else is experiencing a concerning combination of these symptoms.
You may be experiencing substance use disorder if you are:
If you decide to cut back or stop after using cathinones frequently, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. It can be very difficult for people to stop using due to the addictive properties of these drugs. Talk to a trusted friend or family member about your plan and ask them to look out for you and support you. Alternatively, call the Alcohol and Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797 for confidential, non-judgmental advice and referral to a local service provider.
If you are only ready to think about cutting back, you might want to consider starting by buying less so you use less, delaying your first session of the day, and using a smaller amount than usual.
Cathinones are highly unpredictable and increasingly common in the drug market. You may not be aware that you or your friends have brought a cathinone as it is sometimes used in pills or powders as a substitute for MDMA. Using a small amount of any drug initially and waiting for the full effect reduces the risk of overdosing or using too much of something that is more potent than you thought.
These drugs bring a strong desire to use them again and people can quickly develop dependence to the substance where they feel that they need to use more and more often to get an effect or to feel normal. This puts you at risk of long term harm, organ damage and risk of overdose since you are using more.
Information and understanding of cathinones and the long term effects from use is limited, and complicated by the fact that one cathinone may have drastically different effect to another, so a cautious approach is best.