Synthetic Cathinones ("Bath Salts", "Flakka", etc.)

A wide range of unregulated research chemicals – including butylone, dimethylcathinone, ethcathinone, ethylone, 3- and 4-fluoromethcathinone, mephedrone, methedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), methylone, and pyrovalerone – have come to the attention of lawmakers across the nation as potential drugs of misuse. Often marketed and sold legally as bath salts or plant food, under brand names like “Ivory Wave,”  “Purple Wave” and “Vanilla Sky”, these chemicals are said to simulate the psychoactive effects of cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy.   

According to the federally funded Monitoring the Future survey, use among teens remains “very low”  and appears to be on the decline. Indeed, a 2015 national study found that only 1.1 percent of high school seniors reported using “bath salts” in the past year. Recent reports of use have been fueled in large part by sensationalized media reports, and people who have tried these products often report unpleasant psychoactive effects. 

In the U.S., all 50 states have banned some or all of these bath salt chemicals.  In September of 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) used its temporary scheduling powers to prohibit mephedrone, MDPV and methylone on an emergency basis. Congress passed legislation in 2012 banning these and nearly 30 other research chemicals – reacting in knee-jerk fashion to ludicrous media reports claiming that widely publicized violent attacks were caused by these substances, although lab results after these events found no presence of any of these chemicals. 

Despite this ban, similar chemicals continue to appear on the streets and to fuel sensationalized news reports. So-called “second generation” bath salts, like alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PVP or a-PVP), commonly known as “flakka” or “gravel”, have created a frenzy in the media, despite limited information about actual prevalence of use or health effects. Once again, the DEA used its temporary scheduling powers to prohibit alpha-PVP and 9 other cathinone chemicals in 2014.

More info: Get DPA's fact sheet on synthetic drugs (PDF).


[1]See, e.g. Winstock AR, Marsden J, and Mitcheson L. What should be done about mephedrone? BMJ 2010; 340: 1605; Winstock AR, Mitcheson LR, Deluca P, Davey Z, Corazza O, Schifano F. Mephedrone, new kid for the chop? Addiction 2010; published online Aug 23. DOI: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03130x; Winstock AR, Marsden J. Mephedrone: assessment of health risks and harms, 2010. In: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Risk assessment report of a new psychoactive substance: 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone); and Winstock, A.R., Mitcheson, L., Ramsey, J. & Marsden, J. (May 2011), 'Mephedrone: Use, subjective effects and health risks', Addiction, DOI: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03502.x

J. M. Prosser and L. S. Nelson, "The Toxicology of Bath Salts: A Review of Synthetic Cathinones," J Med Toxicol 8, no. 1 (2012).

Lloyd D. Johnston et al., Monitoring the Future, National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975–2012: Volume I, Secondary School Students  (Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, 2013).

Lloyd D. Johnston et al., Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use: 2014 Overview, Key Findings on Adolescent Drug Use  (Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, 2015).

Joseph J. Palamar, "“Bath Salt” Use among a Nationally Representative Sample of High School Seniors in the United States," The American Journal on Addictions (2015).

National Conference of State Legislators, (2015),

DEA moves to emergency control synthetic stimulants.

See, e.g., “Face-Eating Cannibal Attack May Be Latest in String of 'Bath Salts' Incidents,” ABC News, June 1, 2012. (Reporting of a bizarre violent attack in which a man attacked and then bit the face of another man. While police and media reported as fact that the attacker was under the influence of bath salts, in fact none of these substances were found in his system. See e.g. Miami Herald, June 27, 2012.)

See Jacob Sullum, "Fear of Flakka: Anti-Drug Hysteria Validates Itself," Forbes, April 16 2015.(Citing Laura Kenney, "New Designer Drug Flakka Gives Users Super-Human Strength " Yahoo News, April 6, 2015.)

"Schedules of Controlled Substances: Temporary Placement of 10 Synthetic Cathinones into Schedule I," Federal Register 79, no. 45 (2014).