Up-to-Date Information on Methcathinone
Methcathinone is an illegal stimulant drug that bears a chemical resemblance to both methamphetamine and cathinone, one of the active ingredients in another stimulant drug called khat. In parts of the United States, illicit drug manufacturers sell the drug as an alternative to methamphetamine or amphetamine. Like abusers of these two drugs, people who use/abuse methcathinone expose themselves to significant risks for drug addiction. Even in people who don’t become addicted, methcathinone produces clear risks for a number of harmful side effects during both active use and subsequent withdrawal.
Methcathinone was first created in Germany in the late 1920s from cathinone, a mind-altering substance found in the plant species Catha edulis (which also contains a related mind-altering chemical called cathine). For the next two decades, it served as an antidepressant and weight-loss medication in parts of Eastern Europe. In the US, recreational use of the drug began in the late 1980s in the Midwest, where most confirmed cases of use/abuse still occur. Unlike the original cathinone-based form of the drug, illicitly produced methcathinone is typically made with ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, two substances also used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine. Since the early 1990s, federal law has banned possession and use of the drug.
Like methamphetamine, amphetamine and cathinone, methcathinone achieves its mind-altering effects by changing normal levels of three key chemicals in the central nervous system-dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin-that function as neurotransmitters and relay the signals required for coordinated activity within this system. Methcathinone-related elevations in dopamine and norepinephrine levels trigger feelings of euphoria and overstimulation of the body’s natural “fight-or-flight” reflex. Methcathinone-related decreases in serotonin levels tend to produce irritability and other emotions associated with a bad mood.
Methcathinone comes in powdered form. Most users inhale the drug nasally, although other potential forms of administration include smoking, ingestion, and injection. In most cases, a single dose of methcathinone lasts anywhere from four to six hours; however, many people take repeated doses over a period of several days. Common street names for the drug include Cat, Ephedrone, Jeff, and Bathtub Speed.
Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
In addition to euphoria and irritability, common short-term effects of methcathinone include blood pressure increases, dehydration, abnormally high sweat output, heightened awareness or alertness, an elevated heartbeat, abnormally high body temperature, impaired higher-level reasoning skills, increased feelings of connectedness with others, speaking difficulties, and loss of normal appetite. People who take unusually high doses of methcathinone run the risk of additional side effects that can include uncontrollable muscle tremors, insomnia, convulsions, dangerous changes in normal heart and breathing rates, paranoia, anxiety, hallucinations, and delusional thought patterns. Harvard University reports potential consequences of a methcathinone overdose that include stroke, complete heart stoppage (cardiac arrest), coma, and death.
Significant numbers of long-term methcathinone users develop symptoms of medically serious depression. Other potential consequences of chronic use include longer-term forms of the paranoia, insomnia, convulsions, hallucinations, and heart rate elevations associated with short-term methcathinone intake, as well as heart muscle damage and fertility problems. In addition, smokers of the drug can develop lung damage, while snorters of the drug can develop holes in the nasal septum, which normally separates the two nostrils.
Like any other drug that achieves its effects by altering dopamine levels inside the central nervous system, methcathinone can produce addiction in long-term users. This process begins with a physical or mental dependence on the drug, followed by drug cravings and lifestyle alterations centered around drug acquisition and use. Compared to amphetamine and methamphetamine, methcathinone addiction is a relatively slow process, which means that occasional users of the drug don’t get addicted very easily. Generally speaking, methcathinone withdrawal symptoms are also less severe than those associated with amphetamine and methamphetamine. Potential effects of withdrawal include high sweat output, feelings of anxiety, hallucinations, seizures, and medically serious depression.
Some illicit drug manufacturers include methcathinone in formulas used to make the trendy designer substances known collectively as “bath salts.” According to Harvard University, certain drugs and medications can produce fatal outcomes when combined with methcathinone, including antidepressants, sedative-hypnotic medications, anti-seizure medications (anticonvulsants) and any other type of stimulant. Drugs that can produce serious, non-fatal outcomes in combination with methcathinone include acetaminophen (known internationally as paracetamol) and any substance with the potential to trigger a seizure.