Synthetic Cocaine: What Is It?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 10, 2021

Synthetic cocaine, also known as bath salts, is a street-level stimulant. People that abuse illegal synthetic cocaine risk severe addiction, overdose, potentially deadly physical effects, and mental health damage.

What Is Synthetic Cocaine?

Fake cocaine is a more recently popularized synthetic drug that is often combined with, or passed off as, MDMA, methamphetamine, or crack cocaine.

It is one of 26 synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones named as Schedule I controlled substances.

This new psychoactive substance is also known as bath salts, white lightning, or plant food.

The tan/white powder is ingested in the same way cocaine or methamphetamines are taken – typically by oral ingestion, snorting, or smoking.

What Is Synthetic Cocaine?

Synthetic cocaine contains the active ingredient 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a synthetic cathinone derivative of the khat plant alkaloid.

This cathinone works as a central nervous system stimulant that gives feelings of euphoria and a rush of energy.

Human consumption of synthetic cocaine results in feelings similar to cocaine, meth, or MDMA. Many people feel empathy, alertness, and heightened senses when high on this drug.

Because fake cocaine is relatively new, there has not been extensive research on the drug.

However, there is adequate information about the addictive qualities of the drug, effects, and dangers of continuous abuse — which are similar to the risks of amphetamine and cocaine abuse.

Effects Of Synthetic Cocaine

When synthetic cocaine is ingested by snorting or smoking, effects can be felt almost instantly.

Public health and law enforcement officials indicate that while injecting the drug is not common, some people have turned to this method.

The mental and physical effects of using synthetic cocaine will generally mimic that of other central nervous system (CNS) stimulants.

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Increased heart rate and blood pressure may lead to a heart attack or stroke. When the drug is taken in high doses or by somebody with preexisting medical conditions affecting the heart and pulmonary system, this risk is increased.

Physical Side Effects

When a person ingests synthetic cocaine, they may experience numerous physical effects beyond the anticipated feelings of euphoria.

Excessive stimulation of the CNS may cause:

  • excessively rapid heart rate
  • dehydration
  • chest pain
  • high blood pressure
  • rhabdomyolysis (muscle tissue breakdown)
  • kidney failure

Psychological Side Effects

The active ingredient of synthetic cocaine, MDPV, has been known since the mid-2000s, so additional long-term effects may exist. Some of MDPV’s effects on the brain can include lasting psychological impact.

Some short-term effects of synthetic cocaine use include:

  • panic attacks
  • excitement
  • hallucinations/delirium
  • paranoia
  • increased sex drive
  • increased sociability

Can Synthetic Cocaine Lead To Overdose?

As an illegal street drug, synthetic cocaine comes in unpredictable formulations that can be spiked with other drugs.

When this drug is snorted in binges, the body can become overwhelmed and may be unable to adequately process the high volume of drug in their system.

The body may react to the excess of synthetic cocaine with overdose effects that can result in cardiac damage and death.

Overdose symptoms include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • severe agitation
  • psychosis (hallucinations and paranoia)
  • rapid and irregular heartbeat

Synthetic Cocaine Addiction

People may become addicted to continued synthetic cocaine drug use.

Some signs that a person is addicted to synthetic cocaine can include strange behavior and physical changes as a reaction to their emotional need for the drug.

Addiction to synthetic cocaine and continued use of bath salts may cause a person to act and look differently.

They may exhibit:

  • agitation
  • anger
  • delusions/paranoia
  • dilated pupils
  • restlessness
  • hallucinations
  • violent behavior

Does Synthetic Cocaine Lead To Withdrawal?

A reaction to synthetic cocaine can manifest as negative withdrawal symptoms. When a person depends on synthetic cocaine to feel normal, then a period of detoxification may be necessary to begin the recovery process.

A person that is undergoing detox or has not had bath salts after a period of heavy use can experience strong withdrawal symptoms like:

  • trouble sleeping
  • tremors
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • paranoia

Some medical interventions like benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medication may help mitigate more extreme instances of withdrawal symptoms.

In a substance treatment environment, these withdrawals can be better managed than they would during a self-directed “cold-turkey” approach.

Getting Treatment For Synthetic Cocaine Substance Abuse

If you or a loved one is abusing synthetic drugs like bath salts or other cocaine analogues, the long-term negative health impact cannot be overstated. Getting help for drug abuse is the first step to living a better life.

Talk to one of our addiction treatment specialists to learn more about the recovery process, including detox, therapy, and continued recovery for cocaine addiction.

We’re here to help you work towards sobriety. Call to get started now.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 10, 2021
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