Bath salts and synthetic cathinones: an emerging designer drug phenomenon

Life Sci. 2014 Feb 27;97(1):2-8. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2013.07.023. Epub 2013 Aug 2.


Synthetic cathinones are an emerging class of designer drugs abused for psychostimulant and hallucinogenic effects similar to cocaine, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), or other amphetamines. Abuse of synthetic cathinones, frequently included in products sold as 'bath salts', became prevalent in early 2009, leading to legislative classification throughout Europe in 2010 and schedule I classification within the United States in 2011. Recent pre-clinical and clinical studies indicate that dysregulation of central monoamine systems is a principal mechanism of synthetic cathinone action and presumably underlie the behavioral effects and abuse liability associated with these drugs. This review provides insight into the development of synthetic cathinones as substances of abuse, current patterns of their abuse, known mechanisms of their action and toxicology, and the benefits and drawbacks of their classification.

Keywords: Bath salts; Designer drugs; MDPV; Mephedrone; Methylone; Stimulants; Synthetic cathinone.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / adverse effects*
  • Alkaloids / chemistry
  • Alkaloids / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / adverse effects
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / chemistry
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology
  • Designer Drugs / adverse effects*
  • Designer Drugs / chemistry
  • Designer Drugs / pharmacology
  • Europe
  • Hallucinogens / adverse effects
  • Hallucinogens / chemistry
  • Hallucinogens / pharmacology
  • History, 17th Century
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / adverse effects
  • Illicit Drugs / chemistry
  • Illicit Drugs / pharmacology
  • Legislation, Drug
  • Psychotropic Drugs / adverse effects
  • Psychotropic Drugs / chemistry
  • Psychotropic Drugs / pharmacology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • United States


  • Alkaloids
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Designer Drugs
  • Hallucinogens
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • cathinone