Recreational drug users who switch from ecstasy to mephedrone don't understand the dangers

March 25, 2014

Contrary to popular belief among recreational drug users, mephedrone has several important differences when compared with MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy. These differences mean that mephedrone could leave a user with acute withdrawal symptoms and indicate that it may have a higher potential for developing dependence than MDMA according to a study published in British Journal of Pharmacology.

"Although users report that produces similar psychoactive effects to MDMA, these two drugs produce different changes in the brain and the adverse effects they produce, particularly when ingested with other drugs, will therefore be different," says Professor Richard Green, who works at the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham and is a Trustee of the British Pharmacological Society.

In their review of current scientific and medical research, Professor Green and his colleagues concluded that there were only two harmful effects on users associated with MDMA that mephedrone did not replicate: monoamine neurotoxicity in the brain and hyperthermia, both of which can be problems with MDMA.

Reports show that users of mephedrone tend to take repeated doses over a short period. This binge use may induce more severe adverse consequences including the risk that they could become dependent on the drug, say the researchers.

Preclinical studies of mephedrone in laboratory animals indicate a number of reasons why the drug can become more rewarding than MDMA:

• Mephedrone rapidly gets into the brain, so it gives a quick effect. It is then rapidly broken down and cleared. This spike is likely to lead to a range of acute withdrawal symptoms that do not occur with MDMA, which has slower brain penetration, metabolism and clearance.

• The way that mephedrone interacts with neurotransmitter transporters and/or receptors in the means that it has a greater stimulant action than MDMA giving the user a highly positive mood, but it does so in a way that will also tend to have a high psychostimulant and abuse liability. While MDMA also produces a positive mood, the way it operates causes less of a psychostimulant effect than mephedrone.

"One of the key messages for medics and drug users is that even though may initially seem similar, the differences in the way they work can be critical," says Green, who published the findings in the British Journal of Pharmacology. "The good news is that the effects seen in animal studies generally reflect the reported changes in humans, which gives us confidence that the warning signals on the relative risks of different drugs from these studies need to be taken seriously."

More information: A R Green, M V King, S E Shortall and K C F Fone. The preclinical pharmacology of mephedrone; not just MDMA by another name. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2014. Published Online: March 25, 2014. DOI: 10.1111/bph.12628

Related Stories

Party drug's brain tricks explained for first time

October 31, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- A researcher at the University of Sydney has discovered how the increasingly common street drug mephedrone affects the brain, helping to explain why it is potentially such an addictive substance.

Mephedrone boosts illegal drug use

April 23, 2013

Experienced clubbers are more likely to add the former 'legal high' mephedrone to their drug repertoires rather than use it to replace popular established club drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine, according to new research ...

Recommended for you

Young adults found displaying symptoms of net addiction

October 17, 2014

In 2012, Allen Frances, MD, professor emeritus and former chair of the department of psychiatry at Duke University, cautioned that "Internet Addiction" could be the next new fad diagnosis, complete with "an exuberant trumpeting ...

Can 'love hormone' oxytocin protect against addiction?

March 19, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers at the University of Adelaide say addictive behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse could be associated with poor development of the so-called "love hormone" system in our bodies during early ...

Nicotine vaccine prevents nicotine from reaching the brain

May 2, 2012

If smoking a cigarette no longer delivers pleasure, will smokers quit? It's the idea behind a nicotine vaccine being created by MIT and Harvard researchers, in which an injection of synthetic nanoparticles prompts the immune ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.