The researchers began this particular project as part of a larger study on how amphetamine and METH affect the human dopamine transporter molecule. They made the novel finding that both chemicals create long-lasting effects that endure 30 minutes or more after the drugs are removed. This initial research continued with cathinone (CATH), which is a naturally occurring compound found in the khat shrub (Catha edulis). The drugs found in bath salts (MEPH and MDPV) are synthetic derivatives of CATH.
"The stimulant and blocker features of these drugs have been studied previously," said De Felice, "but the evidence for long-lasting stimulation by MEPH and inhibition by MDPV is novel. It also is in some sense unexpected that two structurally similar agents could act oppositely at the dopamine transporter."
The researchers do not yet know why these drugs have a persistent effect. They also don't understand the fundamental reason why two structurally similar drugs act oppositely on the dopamine transporter.
"There also are many questions on the meaning of these findings for the dozens of other illicit synthetic drugs that have found their way to the street," concludes De Felice. "We do suspect, however, that the combination that is found in bath salts could be behind its powerful physiological and neurological effect on users."
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were more than 6,000 calls to poison control centers pertaining to bath salts in 2011, more than ten times the number in 2010. Reported symptoms of exposure include increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, and delusions.
The presentation, "'Bath Salts': A synthetic cathinone whose two major components act similar to methamphetamine and cocaine on the human dopamine transporter," is at 9:15 a.m. on Monday, F
|Contact: Ellen R. Weiss|
American Institute of Physics