Mephedrone is capturing headlines around the world, due to raids and drug busts by various international narcotics control agencies. A case in point is the arrest in Mumbai, India, of the son of a Bollywood star and others attending a party aboard the Cordelia-Empress luxury cruise liner. Law enforcement officials discovered and seized mephedrone, ecstasy, cocaine, and other drugs.
But what is mephedrone? Here’s a closer look at the substance, how it emerged, and the consequences of using it.
What Is Mephedrone?
Mephedrone is a synthetic cathinone psychostimulant. The full chemical name for mephedrone is 4-methylmethcathinone or 4-methyl ephedrone. It is related chemically to cathinone, which is a psychostimulant that is found in the khat plant.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) lists mephedrone as a Schedule I-controlled substance. That means it has no currently accepted medical use and is also highly addictive. The drug commonly comes in pill or powder form. Users typically ingest the drug by taking it orally or by sniffing or snorting it. The drug acts rapidly, with effects felt 15-45 minutes following ingestion.
The drug floods the brain with massive infusions of two neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin. Once the effects of the drug wear off, these neurotransmitters are massively depleted. The effects are like a combination of cocaine or ecstasy and amphetamines.
According to the DEA, the demographic that most commonly abuses mephedrone is young males living in urban areas.
History of Mephedrone
Mephedrone has been used for centuries as a stimulant by indigenous natives in Africa. But the first record of synthesis of mephedrone was reported in France in 1929. For decades after that, however, the drug was mostly unknown.
That changed in 2003 when an underground chemist unearthed mention of the drug during an online search. A drug was sold in Israel in 2004 that contained cathinone and was like mephedrone. The drug, known as “hagigat” there, was subsequently banned by the Israeli government.
The drug makers modified the cathinone, and the result was the now synthesized mephedrone. This was a product that was legal at the time. Production escalated and the mephedrone was distributed through Israeli websites, marketed under the brand names of Neo-Doves and Sub-Coca. According to reports, Israel was the world’s first mephedrone mass market.
The best-kept secret of the Israeli mephedrone formula was eventually uncovered in underground online forums. Even though other countries jumped on the mephedrone production bandwagon, China took advantage of this formulation to create a Chinese process and take over the drug production. With increased worldwide competition, prices of mephedrone fell and availability surged. Media reports of a strong, cheap, legal drug that was readily available on the Internet helped fuel mephedrone’s popularity.
In the latter part of the 2000s, abuse of mephedrone rose to the level of emerging public health problems. Users were primarily young adults and adolescents across the globe.
Today, mephedrone and bath salts are the most consumed drug products in the new psychoactive substances group. Mephedrone abuse constitutes a serious public health problem in America and worldwide.
In the United States, federal law and laws in most states now ban some of the active ingredients in bath salts. Unfortunately, as soon as the laws identify and ban an ingredient as illegal, the illicit drug makers slightly alter the drug’s chemical structure. This makes it easier to evade law enforcement and continue selling the addictive drug on the street and in some stores. The appearance of the drug called Flakka on the street is one example.
Slang for the Drug
Bath salts is a term that gained popularity to denote the illicit street drug mephedrone for a specific purpose: to evade law enforcement and prosecution. Initially, only street drug users and the clandestine manufacturers of mephedrone had any idea what bath salts were.
Bath salts containing mephedrone have various street names in the United States. These include:
- Blue Silk
- Cloud Nine
- Ivory Wave
- Super Coke
- Vanilla Sky
- Plant Food
- Red Dove
- White Dove
- White Lightning
- Purple Wave
Mephedrone has several names on the street that include meph, drone, meow meow, M-smack, MCAT, and bubbles.
What Effects do Users Seek?
The growing popularity and use of new psychostimulant substances, or “novel psychoactive substances” (NPS), including so-called designer drugs like mephedrone is driven, in large part, by their ability to quickly produce stimulant effects akin to amphetamines.
Other effects users seek include sexual stimulation and a high energy level that persists for several hours. Users also take the drug because they think it makes them more cognitively focused and they report increased sociability and feelings of empathy.
As with any drug of abuse, most users seek to achieve an intense high or euphoria. That mephedrone is often not perceived as dangerous makes it even more likely that unsuspecting individuals will try it.
What are the Adverse Side Effects of Mephedrone?
What does mephedrone do? Much of what is known about the adverse side effects of mephedrone comes from anecdotal accounts. Users warn of the feelings of intense paranoia and a protracted comedown from the drug that is as long as nine hours. Some say the mephedrone comedown is worse than coming off cocaine.
The effects of the drug on the brain are no less dangerous, although much remains unknown about how it works on the central nervous system (CNS) and the blood-brain barrier. Recent research shows that mephedrone damages the blood-brain barrier because of several factors: disruption of the properties of the blood-brain barrier, inflammation, and endothelial activation. In the history of mephedrone, there are many reports of psychotic, violent behavior because of mephedrone use.
Other negative mental and psychological side effects from using mephedrone include:
- Euphoria that quickly devolves into paranoia
- Uncontrollable craving for mephedrone
- Extreme agitation
- Inability to sleep (insomnia)
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Episodes of self-harm
- Thoughts of suicide or suicidal attempts
What does Mephedrone Do to the Body?
But the sad news about mephedrone doesn’t stop there. The substance is also harmful to the body and can cause:
- Appetite loss
- Chest pain, heart attacks
- Blurred vision
- Buzzing and ringing in the ears
- A disagreeable odor that is known as “mephedrone stink” – user smells like mephedrone, a bath salts ingredient
- Fever (high)
- Herniation of the brainstem (increased skull pressure that can result in death)
- Muscle cramps and weakness
- Rapid, involuntary eye movement
- Nose bleeding, nose burning
- Sexual dysfunction problems
- Skin problems – rash, the sensation of skin-crawling
- Sweating (excessive)
- Teeth grinding
- Tingling and numbness
Dangers of Using Mephedrone
Mephedrone, a.k.a bath salts, is a dangerous substance. What can bath salts do to you? In the worst-case scenario, it can cause death. The side effects alone are not only frightening, but they can also result in a racing heart, tightening of the chest, extreme paranoia, and addiction. One of the main substances in bath salts is MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone). MDPV is a compound that is extremely reinforcing and highly addictive. According to some research, it is more addictive than methamphetamine. Chronic use entails self-administered binges that often lead to overdose episodes.
When mephedrone overdose leads to death, the cause of death is often not attributed to mephedrone. Fatality reports worldwide typically list the cause of death as cardiac arrest, hypertension, hyperthermia, and serotonin syndrome rather than fatal intoxication with mephedrone.
How to Get Help for Substance Abuse
When drug and alcohol users begin to experience serious negative consequences in physical and mental health, as well as relationships, career, financial situation, legal difficulties, and more, that’s when they’re most likely to look for help for substance abuse. Some may need to hit rock bottom before they realize that they can’t overcome this on their own. Others may need a professional intervention before they accept treatment.
Mephedrone abuse commonly occurs with other substance abuse. Individuals seeking treatment may be looking for help to overcome alcohol use disorder, opiate use disorder, or cannabis use disorder, or a combination of mental health disorder and substance use disorder. After a full clinical examination and personal history, however, mephedrone abuse and addiction can be diagnosed. Then a treatment plan will be created to treat the symptoms and underlying causes of all existing substance use and mental health disorders.
For help to overcome mephedrone and other forms of substance abuse, contact our experts at FHE Health. We’re available 24/7, every day of the year, to offer confidential help and provide information on our treatment programs.