In 2014, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported 1.5 million American cocaine users above the age of 12. As alarming as this number is, it only accounts for individuals using pure cocaine or “coke”. In fact, there has been a rise in of individuals using what is known as “synthetic cocaine,” or fake cocaine, in order to achieve cocaine’s effects for cheaper and longer.
What is Synthetic Cocaine?
Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant. Derived from the coca leaf, cocaine was originally produced in its pure hydrochloride form. It is rare to find 100% pure cocaine on the market. Instead, cocaine is mostly sold as “crack” or impure coke.
Crack cocaine is a mixture of pure cocaine and cutting agents like baking soda. Crack’s immediate effect makes it popular. This effect is short-lived, and users often binge in order to extend the high – a primary reason why cocaine is so addictive.
The term “synthetic cocaine” is essentially a misnomer, since it does not actually contain any cocaine. “Fake cocaine” is a more accurate title, since it is designed to replicate cocaine’s effects. Most of the time, synthetic cocaine refers to synthetic cathinones.
What are synthetic cathinones?
Why do people take synthetic cathinones instead of cocaine? First, it is important to understand what a cathinone is. Benzoylethanamine, ß-keto-amphetamine (cathinone) is a monoamine alkaloid found in the khat plant which can mimic an emphetamine or cocaine high.
Amphetamines are a very powerful group of drugs which include meth and adderall. Some amphetamine effects include:
- Very high energy
- Lack of sleep
- Decreased mental performance
- Fast talking
Many people take amphetamines and cocaine for the same reason – an intense rush of energy and focus. Some claim that cocaine also increases alertness, strength, and speed, though this has not been medically proven.
Synthetic cathinones contain one or more laboratory-made (synthetic) chemicals that behave like cathinones. These substances can cause a long-lasting cocaine-like rush.
Why is Synthetic Cocaine So Popular?
The biggest factors are price and availability. A common misconception is that crack cocaine is cheaper than pure coke. This is not necessarily true. Crack’s absorption rate is generally the real reason for its popularity. Inhaling it creates an intense, nearly instant high.
However, compared to the synthetic cathinone ‘flakka,’ price can be a factor. Flakka can cost around $5 for one hit and the effects can last nearly 5 hours, whereas cocaine can cost more than $80 for a hit lasting only around 10 minutes.
Synthetic cathinones are also usually more accessible, which increases their popularity. The U.S. explicitly prohibits synthetic cathinone production and sale.
However, some manufacturers find shortcuts around this by slightly changing certain ingredients, effectively making their cathinone products more or less legal. This drug type is classified as a “new psychoactive substance” (NPS) which is unregulated by the government, making it much easier to purchase. It can even show up in some convenience stores.
Types of Synthetic Cathinones
There are various types of cathinones, some more notorious than others. All of them are dangerous. The two most popular cathinones are flakka and bath salts.
Flakka (also known as the ‘zombie drug’) became famous in Florida for allegedly causing cannibalistic behavior. In one notorious case, an individual under the influence bit another person’s face. Claims like this are unconfirmed; however, media coverage popularized the drug’s infamous nickname. Flakka is also known to cause hallucinations in some rare cases.
Bath salts are one of the more popular forms of cathinones and very similar to flakkas. They are also called bloom, cloud nine, ivory wave and scarface. Generally sold in brown or white crystalline powders, they visually resemble real bath epsom salts.
Bath salts–whether swallowed or snorted–are a cheaper alternative to MDMA and cocaine.
Dangers of Synthetic Cocaine
There is little medical research on cathinones and their addictive potential. Any substance that causes a powerful euphoric high comes with the risk of addiction for certain people – especially those with preexisting mental health issues. Synthetic cathinone side effects can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Increased heart rate
- In some rare cases, excited delirium and hallucinations
- Risky behavior
Thankfully, synthetic cathinones are not a very popular drug in the U.S. Poison control calls peaked in 2012 at 2,697 and continue on a downward trend – likely due to negative media coverage. Overdose and death from synthetic cathinones are possible. However, risky behavior under the influence is the most common reason for injury and death.
Treatment for Synthetic Cocaine Abuse
Synthetic cathinone treatment is rare. This is not to say that people who abuse it don’t need help. People with substance abuse problems often have other mental health issues. Rather than just managing the symptoms, it’s important to get help from trained professionals to treat an addiction’s root cause.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, contact us today.