Summer festival warning: MDMA increasingly found to contain bath salts

New Years' party-goers are warned to be wary of what could be lurking in their MDMA this festival season.

In a news release on Sunday, harm reduction organisation Know Your Stuff revealed there has been a significant rise of cathinones, also known as bath salts, appearing in the popular party drug MDMA.

The drug testing service has discovered an increase in MDMA either being a cathinone with no MDMA in it, or a cathinone containing just enough MDMA to mask it and spoof reagent tests - kits used for drug testing purposes. 

"We anticipate that this could be the case nationwide, and advise being more cautious than usual when dealing with MDMA this summer," the organisation said in its alert.

What are cathinones?

Often referred to as 'bath salts', cathinones are a family of human-made stimulants frequently sold in place of MDMA. Cathinones marketed as bath salts should not be confused with bath products, such as Epsom salts.

Synthetic cathinones typically appear as a white or brown crystal-like powder, however Know Your Stuff has also found the stimulants in pressed pills.

The more common cathinones the organisation has found in people's drugs are n-ethyl pentylone, mephedrone and eutylone. On rare occasions, drug testing has also detected methylone, mexedrone, 4-methylmethcathinone, MDPV and Alpha-PVP.

According to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic cathinones are part of a group of drugs called new psychoactive substances (NPS). NPS are unregulated, mind-altering substances made to mimic the effects of controlled drugs. Synthetic cathinones are marketed as cheap substitutes for other stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine. Products sold as molly often contain cathinones instead of MDMA.

Cathinones have the same euphoric onset as MDMA, but the effects wear off far more rapidly. As a result, people will often take another dose - which is when they get into trouble.

Cathinones are typically more potent than MDMA, so what a person might believe is a manageable amount may actually present a dangerous amount of cathinone. The stimulant can lead to anxiety, paranoia, gastric distress, seizures or respiratory failure. Mephedrone - one of the cathinones found more recently in MDMA by Know Your Stuff - has been linked to a number of deaths in the United Kingdom and Europe.

According to the organisation, cathinones have a duration between two and five hours. The after-effects generally last in the body between six and 24 hours, but if a person has re-dosed, that period will be extended.

One person who assumed they had weak MDMA and took several doses experienced what they called "48 hours of hell", caused by eutylone. 

How do I find out if I've got a cathinone?

The best way to find out if the drug contains cathinones is to have it tested by a service such as Know Your Stuff. Earlier this month, the Government pushed through urgent legislation to legalise drug testing ahead of the festival season. Drug testing services operate by taking a small sample of the substance a person is intending to take and testing it for impurities. The portion of the drug provided is then destroyed. The service is free of charge, and Know Your Stuff clinics will be based at a number of undisclosed festivals this summer.

Another option is to purchase a reagent test, which are available to buy from several stores. The tests are limited, and can only tell if MDMA actually contains MDMA - they cannot confirm if the drug contains any non-MDMA substances.

If I've consumed a cathinone, what do I do?

If someone who has taken drugs starts feeling anxious, sick, shaky or short of breath, they should be taken to the medics immediately, Know Your Stuff advises.

The medics will need to know what has been taken and how long ago it was consumed. 

"They won't judge you and they aren't narcs," the organisation said.

"Like us, their only concern is making sure you're safe, and helping you if you aren't."