The dangerous phenomenon of synthetic cathinones, a group of manufactured stimulant drugs usually sold as “room fresheners,” “glass cleaner,” or “plant food” with labels like “not for human consumption,” started appearing in various countries in Europe between 2004 and 2005. Many synthetic cathinones began to be imported into the United States in 2009.
Because the chemicals were technically legal, they were sold openly, and many teenagers and young adults abused these substances because they could be easily acquired. This led to a rapid increase in reports of intoxication on these drugs as well as overdoses involving these hazardous psychoactive substances.
How MDPV Abuse Can Lead to Dependence and Withdrawal Symptoms
One of the most dangerous to appear in the US is MDPV, which stands for 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone. This chemical is similar in structure to substances like ecstasy, meth, and cocaine. It reportedly stimulates the brain in some of the same ways that cocaine stimulates the brain’s dopamine release.
MDPV was the main chemical in bath salts, a harsh drug that quickly became notorious for hyperthermia, psychosis, and extreme paranoia, leading to violence. In 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) placed MDPV and several other synthetic cathinones temporarily on the Schedule I list in an attempt to keep them off the streets for long enough for the agency to assess the chemicals’ harms. After determining that MDPV and related synthetic cathinones were very dangerous, the DEA permanently placed them on Schedule I, so they are effectively banned in the US. Many other countries are following suit after similar explosions in use among their population.
Although it is not fully understood if MDPV is addictive, the drug triggers the release of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters that are important in mood and several body functions) and prevents them from being reabsorbed quickly by neurons. MDPV causes intense and fast stimulation, euphoria, and harmful side effects like elevated heart rate and body temperature.
With the quick changes to brain chemistry, it is likely that a person who abuses these drugs will begin craving them as they are metabolized out of the body. At this point, the brain is exhausted and will not generate normal levels of these neurotransmitters. This can lead to consistent abuse of MDPV, eventual physical dependence on the drug, and withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop taking them.
Withdrawal symptoms for stimulant drugs are typically in opposition to the high caused by the drug. Some symptoms may be more uncomfortable or involve paradoxical effects
MDPV Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
MDPV hits the brain quickly, and peak effects are over quickly. One study found that the drug’s half-life was between 77.8 and 97.9 minutes, or between one and two hours. During the experiment, within eight hours, only 1 percent of the drug was detectible in blood tests.
Once the drug is out of the body, comedown effects, like a hangover, may begin. If the person has abused a lot of MDPV consistently for a long time, they may have developed a physical dependency on the substance, which can lead to more intense withdrawal symptoms. If a person abuses MDPV in large doses or often, withdrawal symptoms may take a day or two to begin, as the final dose metabolizes out of their body.
Psychological withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Paradoxical anxiety, panic attacks, and paranoia
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia
- Anhedonia, or not feeling happiness or pleasure in activities
- Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
Physical withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Physical tremors or shaking
- A chemical smell as the drug leaves the body
- Lethargy or extreme fatigue
- Weakness or muscle pain
- Grinding the teeth
- Clenching the jaw
- Kidney pain from damage
- Abdominal pain
- Bloodshot eyes
Since MDPV is a relatively new drug, it is not well-known which symptoms occur on which days. Comedown effects from one dose tend to wear off within eight hours after the high wears off. Generally, symptoms will begin about a day after the last dose of MDPV is taken and then peak symptoms will occur by the third day. After that, symptoms will become less intense over a few days, and the total withdrawal experience should not last more than 10 days. However, some psychological struggles, like depression or cravings, may continue.
While these withdrawal symptoms may be uncomfortable, cravings present the biggest obstacle to recovery. Intense craving can lead to psychological distress, which may trigger compulsive behaviors to take more MDPV or other stimulants. It is important to get medical supervision during detox to reduce the risk of relapsing back into MDPV abuse.