Synthetic cathinones explained

There are many types of drugs, often sold as ecstasy that come from a family of drugs known as synthetic cathinones.

Alpha PVP, N-Ethylpentylone, MDPV, Eutylone and Methylone are all types of synthetic cathinones found in New Zealand in recent years. They are commonly known as bath salts, research chemicals, flakka and meow meow.

In June 2020, a new cathinone N-Ethylheptedrone was detected in New Zealand for the first time. In December 2020, drug checking service KnowYourStuffNZ issued an alert about the increased presence of cathinones at festivals - eutylone was the most commonly detected.

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It’s safest not to use synthetic cathinones at all – they are dangerous drugs and should be avoided. They have been implicated in a number of hospitalisations around the country, most notably in Christchurch in 2018. There has also been at least one fatal incident linked to cathinones in New Zealand, and over 100 in Europe.

If they are used, it should be done with a great deal of caution.

The danger of these substances is that they often have a low active dose. That means extra care is needed to avoid taking too much. For example, a common dose of MDPV is 20mg, which is a fifth of a standard MDMA dose. This can have fatal consequences.

Also, sometimes the effects of the drug take longer to kick in (over two hours), meaning that people can take more, not realising that it’s working, and end up overdoing it. This isn’t fun for anyone and can lead to unpleasant effects.

Synthetic cathinones are often sold as MDMA. That’s why KnowYourStuffNZ advises getting party drugs checked before taking them.

The effects of cathinones can be unpredictable. Someone may want to be rolling with their mates, but end up feeling agitated, aggressive and violent, or experience hallucinations.

What to do in an emergency

The NZ Drug Foundation recommends that if someone appears unconscious or is in distress after taking a synthetic cathinone:

  • Ask loudly if they’re ok. Shake them gently.
  • If they aren’t responsive, dial 111 and ask for an ambulance.
  • Check they’re breathing and place them in a stable side position. If they aren’t breathing, start chest compressions.

Always call an ambulance if someone:

  • is unconscious;
  • stops breathing;
  • has a seizure;
  • is extremely agitated for longer than 15 minutes;
  • has chest pain or breathing difficulties for longer than 5 minutes.


Are you concerned about your own drinking or drug taking? Reach out to the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or text 8681. You'll be able to speak with a trained counsellor who can provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They’re available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential.