In New Zealand some substances being sold as MDMA are actually synthetic cathinones. Synthetic cathinones can have unpleasant and unpredictable effects. Some of these such as alpha-PVP are particularly dangerous.
Key things to know
They're sometimes sold as MDMA as the effects can be similar at first, but are often stronger and can have more unpredictable and unpleasant effects▼ What to expect
Start with a lower amount because it’s hard to predict what effects you’ll have▼ Start low, go slow
If swallowing, wait an hour for the effects to kick in before deciding to take more▼ Safer using
Use drug checking services to make sure you know what you have▼ Drug checking info
What to expect
How do synthetic cathinones make you feel?
Synthetic cathinones can make people feel energetic, open and alert. People may also feel euphoria and more empathy for others and have a higher sex drive than normal. However, people can also experience psychosis, rage, agitation and other unpleasant symptoms like vomiting and twitching. Different synthetic cathinones have different effects. Some effects are mild while others can be quite dangerous.
Though bath salts can look like MDMA, they can be three times as strong. It may feel the same as MDMA for the first 30–45 minutes, but after that, these effects can change and become unpredictable. The positive effects of these drugs last for a much shorter time than MDMA, which can lead to re-dosing (taking more). Re-dosing increases the risk of having unpleasant effects from the drug.
An Erowid user describes being on the synthetic cathinone N-ethylpentedrone:
“The euphoria is marked – reminds me much of a cocaine + MDMA high, but without most of the uncomfortable physical side-effects of either drug. Tread lightly and know your body, and when enough is enough. I don’t fiend (too much) over this drug, and after reaching the point of physical discomfort, it is not hard to put it away for another day. I wouldn’t push the bounds too far with the dosing on this one.”
Irritable and agitated
Horny (can be intense or unwanted)
Feeling socially confident
Severely agitated or aggressive
Sweaty or feeling very hot or very cold
Feeling panicked or having panic attacks
Very high dose
Fast or irregular heartbeat
Severe panic attacks
Suicidal thoughts or attempts
How can you be safer when using synthetic cathinones?
Synthetic cathinones are a large group of drugs, and there are different things to consider for each one. Different types of synthetic cathinones will affect people differently and some are more dangerous than others. It is always a good idea to think about the things you can do to be safer when using.
Wait an hour before re-dosing, especially if you are using orally.
Synthetic cathinones are commonly swallowed in a pill, drink or as powder. If you are taking a synthetic cathinone by swallowing, remember that it will take longer for it to be processed in your body. Wait for 1 hour before re-dosing as you may not feel the effects of the drug right away. Using more too quickly can increase unpleasant effects and your chance of overdose.
Take care if you are snorting synthetic cathinones.
Try to take long breaks between using this way as it can cause damage to your nose. Use a clean straw or snorting tool and surface every time, and do not share these with others. You can also do a nasal saline rinse after snorting to clear your nose. Remember that snorting will release the drug into your body faster and can be more likely to cause an overdose.
Do you research on the synthetic cathinone you plan to take.
As synthetic cathinones are all different. A low dose for one synthetic cathinone can be a dangerously high dose for another, so it is a good idea to do your research and learn what to expect and how to dose. Visit tripsit and search for the synthetic cathinone you are using for specific information on dosing.
Start with a lower dose.
There is limited research on the effects of many synthetic cathinones, and it can be difficult to predict how they will affect someone. With all synthetic cathinones, it is a good idea to start slow and low by taking a small amount and seeing how you feel. Synthetic cathinones can feel like MDMA for the first hour, and then they can start to become more unpleasant, so it is good to wait for at least an hour before you use more.
Remember, synthetic cathinones are not the same as MDMA.
Though synthetic cathinones are often sold as MDMA because they look similar and have similar effects when they are first taken, they are not the same drug. Synthetic cathinones are very different drugs to MDMA with different effects, doses and risks.
Test your drugs, especially if you aren't sure what you have.
Synthetic cathinones can be checked at a drug checking clinic with a spectrometer. This is helpful to check your drugs for adulterants or to see if they are another drug altogether, but it can also be good to see which synthetic cathinone you have. Drug checking clinics can then give you advice on how to be safer with that specific synthetic cathinone. There are several reagent tests you can use yourself to test synthetic cathinones, you can buy these in New Zealand from Cosmic and The Hemp Store. Reagent tests aren't able to tell you which synthetic cathinone you have or whether you have a mix of different drugs.
For more information on how to be safer when using drugs and alcohol, see Safer using.
To order self-help workbooks and other free resources for safer use, see Resources.
If you've had too much
What happens if you overdose on synthetic cathinones?
It is quite common to have a bad trip when taking synthetic cathinones. This is because their effects can vary a lot and are often unpredictable. Synthetic cathinones are a group of drugs that all have different doses, effects and risks, so it is hard to know exactly how they will affect you. Bad trips and overdoses can occur as quickly as 1 hour after taking the drug and can last up to 48 hours. Taking synthetic cathinones with other drugs and alcohol can increase these effects or change them.
You might feel agitated, aggressive, nauseous, sweaty, hot, dizzy or jittery or have aches and pains, headaches, insomnia or mood swings.
- Focus on breathing – try taking slow, deep breaths.
- If you are able, call and talk to somebody you trust and ask them to help keep you calm.
- Do not take more bath salts, caffeine, alcohol or other drugs, as these can make you feel worse.
- Move to somewhere quiet – try to sit or lie down and do something relaxing.
- Drink water to stay hydrated.
If you vomit, feel severely dizzy or faint, experience tremors, have a fast or irregular heartbeat, experience slow or fast breathing, experience severe mental distress such as paranoia, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or violent thoughts, call a doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116).
If you're experiencing life-threatening symptoms like difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, loss of or severe changes in vision, tremors, seizures, loss of consciousness, signs of heart attack or stroke such as numbness or slurred speech; or you're at risk of harming yourself or others, you or the people around you should act quickly. Call 111.
If you experience unexpected or concerning effects from synthetic cathinones you can notify High Alert to help keep others safe.
An Erowid user talks about the synthetic cathinone alpha-PVP:
“Soon after that I got paranoid, over interpreting noises as people, having business with me. As mentioned, this is not new to me, but still unsettling. At that point, the euphoria already dissipated and left me with heavy heartbeat and shallow breath. My hands became sweaty and I heated up in general.”
What do comedowns from synthetic cathinones feel like, and how can you feel better?
The effects of synthetic cathinones usually last 3–4 hours. After this, users usually experience a ‘hard crash’ instead of a slow comedown. The comedown from these drugs is unpredictable and depends a lot on which type of synthetic cathinone has been taken and how your body reacts to it. Most people who use synthetic cathinones say that the comedown is where they have the most unpleasant and uncomfortable experiences.
Taking synthetic cathinones with alcohol or other drugs can change or increase the effects of the comedown that are listed below.
You may: feel anxious, unmotivated, confused, low, irritable or agitated, feel uncoordinated or dizzy, have weakness in your body or have trouble moving, feel tired or have difficulty sleeping, have nausea or itchy skin.
You can try...
- Get plenty of rest and sleep
- Remember to eat and drink plenty of water
- Get moving to release feel-good brain chemicals
- Reach out and talk with friends and whānau for support
- Relax and do things that you enjoy to take your mind off not feeling well
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other drugs
- Practise mindfulness and deep breathing, and try writing down your thoughts and feelings
If any of these symptoms intensify or don't go away then call a doctor or Healthline 0800 611 116. They can talk you through the next steps.
If your symptoms worsen or you are with somebody who:
- Has disturbing hallucinations
- Has a high fever
- Has difficulty breathing
- Has severe agitation or aggression
- Becomes emotionally distressed
- Experiences psychosis
- Acts violently
- Has a seizure
- Has suicidal thoughts
- Loses consciousness
Call 111. These are signs that something more serious is going on. You or the people around you should act quickly.
An Erowid user talks about using MDPV:
“I started to experience the beginning of some psychotic symptoms. It surprised me as I read it usually happened at the 3 days. These consisted of some weird noises and sounds, some visual distortions like seeing black things move in the corner of my eye, or small dust balls that seemed to move like insects. So, I took a shower about 2 hours after the last dose and went to sleep. Before doing so, I realized my moves were slow and my muscles still rigid and imprecise, but I thought I was just extremely tired. I was hoping for a long sleep to recover. I woke up however about 3 hours later and unable to sleep again. I was feeling very bad physically and psychologically.”
What are the long-term effects of using synthetic cathinones?
Some people may take synthetic cathinones by accident, thinking that it is MDMA or another party drug, and never use it again. Other people might take synthetic cathinones on purpose because of their strong effects. There isn’t much research on what happens when people use synthetic cathinones long-term. Most of what we know comes from people’s reports of their personal experiences. Overall, we see that long-term use of these drugs can have severe effects on your physical and mental health.
Using synthetic cathinones long term can damage your kidneys, stomach and heart. It can lead to seizures and brain damage. It can also cause problems for your mental health including long-term psychosis, extreme paranoia, suicidal thoughts, problems with violence and aggression and changes to personality. Using these drugs long term can lead to permanent damage and sometimes death.
How do you manage withdrawal from synthetic cathinones?
See the 'Making changes' page for more information on how to Manage withdrawal from drugs and alcohol.
We are limited in our knowledge of what happens when someone stops their regular use of synthetic cathinones. Most of the information we have comes from emergency hospital reports and people’s personal experiences. Synthetic cathinones can become addictive quickly as their effects are short-lived and people often have the urge to continue taking more (re-dosing). Withdrawal effects can range from mild to severe depending on what synthetic cathinone was used, how much and for how long.
Withdrawal from synthetic cathinones usually lasts 48 hours to 1 week. At this time, a lapse or relapse can happen. In this situation, it’s important to keep trying as stopping use completely can sometimes take a few attempts.
- Feel tired, anxious, irritable, agitated, low or paranoid
- Have difficulty sleeping, or have nightmares
- Have nausea, headaches, diarrhea, constipation, stomach-aches or muscle cramps
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Get cravings to take cathinones
- Feel sweaty or very hot
You can try:
- Follow a tapering plan from a health professional to reduce your dose slowly
- Consider counselling or support groups if feelings of anxiety and depression are getting worse
- Lean on a support network of friends, family and professionals
- Stick to a routine – waking up, eating well, keeping active and rewarding yourself with things that bring you joy
- Practise mindfulness by writing down your feelings, doing breathing exercises or meditating
If your symptoms get worse or do not go away, or you experience: vomiting, tremors, aggressive behaviour, acting erratically or in a risky way, suicidal thoughts or violent thoughts, call a doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116)
You can talk to your doctor about:
- other prescription medications to help you get through withdrawal.
- rehab or withdrawal clinics in your area – visit Health Point to see what services are available.
If you or someone you're with has severe heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat, has a severe headache, has chest pain, has memory loss, has difficulty breathing, has sudden personality changes, experiences psychosis, acts violently, attempts suicide, has a seizure or loses consciousness, call 111. These are signs that something more serious is going on. You or the people around you should act quickly.
For more information on getting support for drug and alcohol use, see Find support.
Working and driving
How can synthetic cathinones affect your daily life?
Even at low doses, synthetic cathinones can affect your ability to complete your daily tasks. It’s difficult to work out exactly how they will affect you, but it often depends on which synthetic cathinone you have taken, how much you have taken and for how long.
Synthetic cathinones change the way your brain works. You may find it harder to concentrate, have trouble remembering things, have hallucinations, have worse judgement or put yourself in riskier situations. This can make it hard to make safe choices and can make normal, everyday interactions feel overwhelming. Because of this, it can be harder to perform at your best at work.
Synthetic cathinones can also make your body act differently. You may have a hard time controlling your movement, feel restless, shaky and nauseous and have a hard time seeing or hearing things happening around you. Because of this, it can be unsafe to do tasks where you need to be steady, use fine movements or operate machinery. You also shouldn’t drive when using synthetic cathinones as they slow your reaction time and impair your judgement.
If you take synthetic cathinones, will it show up on a drug test?
Synthetic cathinones can be tested for in urine, blood, saliva (spit) and hair. There are lots of different types of synthetic cathinones, which makes them harder to test for than other drugs. Because there is very little information about how to test for them, they are usually not tested for.
If they are tested for, these samples need to be sent to a forensic laboratory. The most common situation where someone would be tested is at a hospital or emergency department where they are experiencing psychosis or overdose from these drugs.
Are synthetic cathinones illegal?
All synthetic cathinones are illegal in New Zealand. Methcathinone and cathinone (2-amino-1-phenylpropan-1-one) are considered Class B controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Other synthetic cathinones that are analogues of methcathinone or cathinone are Class C controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Any other synthetic cathinones that don't fall into the categories above are illegal under the Psychoactive Substances Act. This means that possessing, selling, importing, buying or making these drugs is against the law. If someone is using your car or home to do these things, you can be charged.
You can also get in trouble with the law if you are found to be impaired by synthetic cathinones while driving.
To find out more about the law around drugs including synthetic cathinones and the Psychoactive Substances Act see Drugs and the law.