By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
With the festival season in full swing, several reports have emerged about a rise in the use of the party drug ‘monkey dust’ or MDPV, the scientific name for which is 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV.
Monkey dust is reported to have similar effects to stimulants such as ‘ecstacy’ or MDMA, but there are concerns that a ‘hit’, which can cost as little as ten dollars, can have severe adverse effects.
Bath salts by another name
Monkey dust is not new. It is derived from a South African plant called Khat, which can be chewed like a gum and thereby absorbed through the mouth.
It is what’s known as a synthetic cathinone, which is commonly known as concentrated bath salts.
MDVP was developed by pharmaceutical firm Boehringer Ingelheim in the mid-1960s as a central nervous system stimulant. But the drug’s development never got far enough for it to be tested on humans.
It first appeared in internet drug forum discussions around 2005, and its use became increasingly prevalent in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, where it has caused heart attacks, episodes of psychosis and violent behaviour.
While users report euphoria, feelings of empathy (although less than MDMA), increased sociability, mental and physical stimulation, and sexual arousal, the side-effects can include anxiety and paranoia, delusions, muscle spasms, and an elevated heart rate.
In extreme cases, the drug has been linked to rhabdomyolysis – a process whereby the body’s internal organs overheat and shut down.
It has also been linked to brain injury and death. However, the more serious side-effects are likely to result from high doses.
Monkey dust is illegal in Australia
MDPV has been illegal in Australia since 2010, around the same time in many other jurisdictions including the United States, Canada, and much of Europe.
A year after its ban, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that it has been responsible for thousands of visits to emergency room in the United States. In 2011 alone, there were 22,904 reports of MDPV use during emergency room visits. About two thirds of those visits involved combinations with other drugs.
In addition, poison centres took more than 6,000 calls about exposures to the drug in 2011.
The numbers had declined significantly by 2016, with NIDA reporting 266 reported exposures in the first half of the year.
In its pure form, MDVP is a white crystalline powder, but it can be any shade from off-white to pale brown. It is usually sold as a powder, powder-filled capsules or tablets.
MDVP tends to arrive in Australia from China, where it is legal to produce. It is most commonly used as a filler in ecstasy pills, but it can be ingested on its own – snorted, smoked, taken orally or injected.
Young people are being warned that while the drug might produce a ‘nice high’, it can have serious effects.
Pill testing technology can identify monkey dust
The good news is that MDVP can be identified through mass spectrometry or infrared spectroscopy, which is used in pill testing.
As the pill testing debate rages on, the fact remains that testing substances has the potential to save lives by advising users of the contents of their drugs and allowing them to make an informed decision about whether or not to take them and, if so, how much to take.
And importantly, pill testing tents create a valuable opportunity for health professionals to talk to drug users and better educate them about what they’re putting into their bodies, and even guide them to support services.
So far this season, five young people have died from drug-related causes at Music festivals across the country.
It’s important to remember under all circumstances that possessing, selling and using illegal drugs are criminal offences, with penalties that include prison time.
One night of fun can significantly impact on a person’s future, whether through apprehension and prosecution or by the effects of taking unknown substances.
So stay safe, look after your mates and have a great festival season.