DEA Arrests at Least 150 People in Synthetic Drug Operation in 29 States

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced Wednesday it conducted a major crackdown on synthetic drugs that involved the arrest of at least 150 people in 29 states, and the seizure of more than $20 million in products and cash. Hundreds of thousands of packets of synthetic drugs were seized.

The operation comes a week after more than 100 people in Texas became ill from synthetic marijuana, the Los Angeles Times reports. “There’s a cluster of people with severe anxiety, some with seizures, that could be because of synthetic cannaboids,” Dr. Miguel Fernandez, Director of South Texas Poison Center, told the newspaper. “I would caution people not to use them because they are not like typical marijuana.”

Law enforcement officials and prosecutors have found it difficult to win convictions against makers of synthetic drugs, who are constantly changing the chemistry of the products to stay one step ahead of the law. In order to convict a synthetic drug maker, officials must prove the person sold the drug, and that the drug was substantially similar to a specifically banned substance. All a drug maker has to do is make small chemical changes to the products so they are not considered “analogues,” or chemical compounds that are similar to banned drugs.

Last year, the DEA and authorities in three other countries announced the arrests of dozens of people involved in trafficking designer drugs such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana. In the United States, the enforcement operations took place in 49 cities, and targeted retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers. The operations included more than 150 arrest warrants and almost 375 search warrants.

In 2013, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported 29,000 emergency department visits nationwide in 2011 resulting from use of synthetic marijuana, up from 11,000 in 2010.


Stimulants in “Bath Salts” Produce Effects Similar to MDMA

August 19, 2013

Mephedrone and methylone, two stimulants commonly found in designer drugs such as “bath salts,” act on the brain much like methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, Ecstasy). According to recent studies, the two may be addictive, but may not have the same propensity for causing toxicity as MDMA.

Figure 1A and 1B. Mephedrone and Methylone Increase Extracellular Serotonin and Dopamine Direct measurements of neurochemical release in the nucleus accumbens of living rats show that the higher the dose of mephedrone and methylone, the greater the increase in extracellular dopamine and serotonin levels. Like MDMA, the drugs produce a greater effect on serotonin (Figure 1A) than on dopamine (Figure 1B). Asterisks indicate a significant difference compared to saline-injected controls at a particular time point.Text Description of Graphic
Dr. Michael Baumann of NIDA’s Intramural Research Program and researchers at several centers collaborated to pin down the drugs’ pharmacological and behavioral effects. The researchers sampled rats’ extracellular brain fluid while the animals moved about after being dosed with one of the three stimulants or saline. Assays of the fluid revealed that all the drugs elevated extracellular concentrations of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, as shown by comparison with levels in the animals given saline. For all three drugs, the impact on serotonin was greater than that on dopamine (see Figure 1A and 1B).
Analysis of rats’ brain tissue revealed an underlying mechanism for the heightened neurotransmitter presence: All three drugs caused transporters in cellular membranes to release dopamine and serotonin into the extracellular space. This effect reverses the normal activity of the transporters, which is to draw the neurotransmitters out of the extracellular space.

Figure 2. Designer Drugs Are Chemically Related to MDMA Mephedrone, methylone, and MDMA all share the chemical structures shown in green.Text Description of Graphic
The fact that the three drugs produce similar pharmacologic effects is consistent with their similar chemical structures (see Figure 2). However, the researchers also found important differences between the drugs.
Whereas repeated high doses of MDMA markedly reduced serotonin concentrations in the cortex and striatum, the researchers did not see this effect with mephedrone or methylone. Moreover, although rats given acute doses of all three drugs exhibited locomotor stimulation and hyperthermia, repeated high doses of the drugs produced different behavioral responses. Specifically, instead of the flattened body posture and forepaw treading seen with MDMA, mephedrone and methylone induced rearing behavior.
Dr. Baumann and colleagues note that much research has shown that drugs which increase extracellular dopamine—as do all the drugs they tested—have high potential for addiction. They speculate that the differences in rats’ serotonin and behavioral responses to the drugs are linked, and may indicate that mephedrone and methylone have less toxic potential than MDMA. However, they emphasize that this hypothesis needs to be tested.
This study was supported by NIH grants DA017675 and DA027191.

Baumann, M.H., et al. The designer methcathinone analogs, mephedrone and methylone, are substrates for monoamine transporters in brain tissue. Neuropsychopharmacology 37(5):1192–1203, 2012. Full Text

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DEA Continues to Act Against Synthetic Drugs

April 12, 2013  Contact: DEA Public Affairs  (202) 307-7977

DEA Continues to Act Against Synthetic Drugs

Agency Targets Four Substances Used to Make So-Called “Fake Pot” and “Bath Salts”

APR 12 (WASHINGTON)  –Today the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) published a Final Rule to permanently control 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylcathinone (methylone) and a Notice of Intent to temporarily schedule three synthetic cannabinoids.

The first of two notices published in the Federal Register this morning is a Final Rule permanently placing methylone, a synthetic stimulant drug that has been encountered in falsely marketed “bath salt” products, into Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act,  the most restrictive category that is reserved for unsafe, highly abused substances with no accepted medical use.  Methylone is abused by individuals for its psychoactive effects, and this abuse has had an adverse effect on public health and safety, including death.   DEA temporarily scheduled methylone on October 21, 2011 upon finding it posed an imminent hazard to public safety.  In addition the United States Department of Health and Human Services concluded that it should be controlled.   On October 17, 2012, DEA proposed to make its Schedule I status permanent, taking steps that conclude with today’s Final Rule.

Over the past two years, synthetic stimulants sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant food” has become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults, and is sold at a variety of retail outlets and over the Internet.  However, they have not been approved by the FDA for human consumption or for medical use.  Marketed under names such as “Ivory Wave”, “Purple Wave”, “Vanilla Sky” or “Bliss,” these products are comprised of substances perceived as mimics of cocaine, LSD, MDMA, and/or methamphetamine.  Users have reported impaired perception, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia, and violent episodes. The long-term physical and psychological effects of these substances and their associated products are unknown but potentially severe.

The second Federal Register Notice published today is a Notice of Intent to temporarily control three synthetic cannabinoids (UR-144, XLR11, and AKB48) often seen in falsely marketed “herbal incense” products.   DEA has taken action upon finding these three substances pose an imminent hazard to public safety.  This action will become effective upon publishing a Final Order to temporarily control these substances as Schedule I substances for up to two years, with the possibility of a one-year extension.

Over the past three years, smoke-able herbal blends are marketed under the guise of being “legal” and have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults.  These products consist of plant material that has been laced with a substance that mimics THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet.  These substances have not been approved by the FDA for human consumption or for medical use.   The long-term physical and psychological effects of these substances and their associated products are unknown but potentially severe.

New Bath Salts Resource Available from NIDA


December 05, 2012
Featured on Latest Science:



A new resource on “bath salts,” an emerging family of drugs containing one or more synthetic chemicals, is now available on NIDA’s website:  Reports of severe intoxication and dangerous health effects associated with use of bath salts have made these drugs a serious and growing public health and safety issue. Read more here.
NOTE: The 2012 Monitoring the Future survey on nation-wide teen drug use will include bath salts for the first time. Survey results will be released December 19, 2012 at 10:00 EST at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
For more information, contact the NIDA press office at or 301-443-6245.

Emerging Drugs

Synthetic Cathinones (“Bath Salts”)


The term “bath salts” refers to an emerging family of drugs containing one or more synthetic chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant found naturally in the Khat plant.
Reports of severe intoxication and dangerous health effects associated with use of bath salts have made these drugs a serious and growing public health and safety issue. The synthetic cathinones in bath salts can produce euphoria and increased sociability and sex drive, but some users experience paranoia, agitation, and hallucinatory delirium; some even display psychotic and violent behavior, and deaths have been reported in several instances.

In Name Only
The synthetic cathinone products marketed as “bath salts” to evade detection by authorities should not be confused with products such as Epsom salts that are sold to improve the experience of bathing. The latter have no psychoactive (drug-like) properties.

Bath salts typically take the form of a white or brown crystalline powder and are sold in small plastic or foil packages labeled “not for human consumption.” Sometimes also marketed as “plant food”—or, more recently, as “jewelry cleaner” or “phone screen cleaner”—they are sold online and in drug paraphernalia stores under a variety of brand names, such as “Ivory Wave,” “Bloom,” “Cloud Nine,” “Lunar Wave,” “Vanilla Sky,” “White Lightning,” and “Scarface.”

How Are Bath Salts Abused?
Bath salts are typically taken orally, inhaled, or injected, with the worst outcomes being associated with snorting or needle injection.

How Do Bath Salts Affect the Brain?
Common synthetic cathinones found in bath salts include 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone (“Drone,” “Meph,” or “Meow Meow”), and methylone, but there are many others. Much is still unknown about how these substances affect the human brain, and each one may have somewhat different properties. Chemically, they are similar to amphetamines (such as methamphetamine) as well as to MDMA (ecstasy).
The energizing and often agitating effects reported in people who have taken bath salts are consistent with other drugs like amphetamines and cocaine that raise the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine in brain circuits regulating reward and movement. A surge in dopamine in these circuits causes feelings of euphoria and increased activity. A similar surge of the transmitter norepinephrine can raise heart rate and blood pressure. Bath salts have been marketed as cheap (and until recently, legal—see Box) substitutes for those stimulants. A recent study found that MDPV—the most common synthetic cathinone found in the blood and urine of patients admitted to emergency departments after bath salts ingestion—raises brain dopamine in the same manner as cocaine but is at least 10 times more potent.
The hallucinatory effects often reported in users of bath salts are consistent with other drugs such as MDMA or LSD that raise levels of another neurotransmitter, serotonin. A recent analysis of the effects in rats of mephedrone and methylone showed that these drugs raised levels of serotonin in a manner similar to MDMA.

An Evolving Threat
When bath salts emerged at the end of the last decade, they rapidly gained popularity in the U.S. and Europe as “legal highs.” In October 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration placed three common synthetic cathinones under emergency ban pending further investigation, and in July 2012, President Obama signed legislation permanently making two of them—mephedrone and MDPV—illegal along with several other synthetic drugs often sold as marijuana substitutes (“Spice”).
Although the new law also prohibits chemically similar “analogues” of the named drugs, manufacturers are expected to respond by creating new drugs different enough from the banned substances to evade legal restriction. After mephedrone was banned in the United Kingdom in 2010, for example, a chemical called naphyrone quickly replaced it, and is now being sold as “jewelry cleaner” under the brand name “Cosmic Blast.”

What Are the Other Health Effects of Bath Salts?
Bath salts have been linked to an alarming surge in visits to emergency departments and poison control centers across the country. Common reactions reported for people who have needed medical attention after using bath salts include cardiac symptoms (such as racing heart, high blood pressure, and chest pains) and psychiatric symptoms including paranoia, hallucinations, and panic attacks.
Patients with the syndrome known as “excited delirium” from taking bath salts also may have dehydration, breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, and kidney failure. Intoxication from several synthetic cathinones including MDPV, mephedrone, methedrone, and butylone has proved fatal in several instances.
Early indications are that synthetic cathinones have a high abuse and addiction potential. In a study of the rewarding and reinforcing effects of MDPV, rats showed self-administration patterns and escalation of drug intake nearly identical to methamphetamine. Bath salts users have reported that the drugs trigger intense cravings (or a compulsive urge to use the drug again) and that they are highly addictive. Frequent consumption may induce tolerance, dependence, and strong withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug.
The dangers of bath salts are compounded by the fact that these products may contain other, unknown ingredients that may have their own harmful effects.
Also, drug users who believe they are purchasing other drugs such as ecstasy may be in danger of receiving synthetic cathinones instead. For example, mephedrone has been found commonly substituted for MDMA in pills sold as ecstasy in the Netherlands.

Learn More
For additional information on bath salts, please see

Publication InformationNovember 16 2012

The term “bath salts” refers to an emerging family of drugs containing one or more synthetic chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant found naturally in the Khat plant.

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