Despite media reports that “monkey dust” is a new and growing problem, it is not new. Monkey dust is one of many names given to a potentially dangerous party drug known as “bath salts.” They are hardly new or an epidemic.
Monkey dust is not a name much used in the United States. In April 2020, a drug fact sheet from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) listed common street names for bath salts but did not include monkey dust.
While a 2020 US newspaper story about a drug arrest mentions the monkey dust drug, the official quotes used its chemical name MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone). The reporter may have added monkey dust.
The name monkey dust originated in the United Kingdom in 2018, taken from the title of a dark satirical cult BBC animated TV program. In 2019, Australian law enforcement and media also used the term, although they reported no cases.
Other names for bath salts in the news include flakka.
MDPV has been illegal since 2012, around the same time that media reports suggested that bath salts turned a homeless Florida man into a homicidal cannibal. In that case—and a similar one in 2016—blood tests found no evidence of bath salts.
What are bath salts?
Bath salts and monkey dust drug ingredients are synthetic cathinones, new psychoactive substances (NPS) with stimulant effects similar to cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA (molly, ecstasy). Sometimes they are mixed with MDMA.
Bath salts are less expensive but do not seem to be the drug of choice. The use of MDPV may increase when supplies of those drugs are low.
What is khat?
Khat, the leaf of an East African plant, is legal in several African countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen. In Ethiopia, it has been cultivated since the 13th century, predating coffee. In Yemen, 90% of men, 70% of women, and 15% of children younger than 12 use khat.
When placed in the mouth and chewed, khat produces euphoria and stimulant effects similar to—but less intense—than cocaine or meth. Some researchers say it has a low risk for dependence or addiction—more like ecstasy than cocaine or meth— but that doesn’t mean it has no health risks. The US outlawed khat in 1993.
In the short term, khat may increase sociability, energy, concentration, and reduce appetite, but long-term use might cause:
- Sleep difficulties.
- Low sperm count and impotence.
- Cancer of the mouth, like with tobacco.
- Existing mental health problems to worsen.
- Liver problems.
What are synthetic cathinones?
While cathinone is a natural stimulant derived from khat, synthetic cathinones or bath salts are human-made versions of the chemical that are usually stronger.
Bath salts are a powder that is insufflated (“snorted”), swallowed in capsule or pressed monkey pill form, or dissolved and injected intravenously.
Whatever khat’s problems, the side effects of synthetic cathinones are worse.
The side effects of synthetic cathinones such as the crazy monkey drug may include:
- Sleep deprivation.
- Increased sex drive but also the likelihood of erectile dysfunction.
- Panic attacks.
- Excited delirium.
Synthetic cathinones may also cause hallucinations, but not everyone agrees. Although they are psychoactive substances, so are alcohol and marijuana, neither of which produce hallucinations as often or to the same extent as LSD or hallucinogens.
Dosage is important. Because synthetic cathinones are outlawed and not regulated, there is no way to determine the purity or potency of monkey dust or other bath salts or the effects of a particular dose. As a result, overdose and other unwanted and unexpected side effects become more likely.
Despite attempts to ramp up awareness of the dangers of bath salts, they are barely a blip on the radar. In South Florida, there were 63 flakka-related deaths from September 2014 to December 2015. There were no reported flakka-related deaths in the first four-and-a-half months of 2016.
Treatment for Bath Salts Dependence
Because there are no medication-assisted treatments approved for stimulant use disorders, behavioral therapy is the prevalent treatment. Clients learn to change their way of thinking and feeling and so change their actions.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the primary behavioral therapy, but the Matrix Model specifically targets stimulant use disorders. It combines parts of several other treatments, including CBT and family therapy. It is usually an intensive outpatient program (IOP).
Another program sometimes added to treatment plans is contingency management, a series of rewards or tokens for continued (and verified) sobriety. It co-opts the desire for instant gratification of people with substance use disorders.
Because addiction has no permanent cure, most treatment plans also encourage post-treatment membership in a peer support fellowship—regular meetings with other people in recovery—such as 12-step groups or SMART Recovery.
- cbs17.com – Raleigh man charged with possession of drug known as ‘monkey dust’
- vice.com – Remembering ‘Monkey Dust,’ the UK’s Greatest Animated Satire Series
- abc.net.au – Monkey Dust: Reports that the illegal drug is sweeping the nation don’t stack up.
- dea.gov – Flakka (alpha-PVP)
- theconversation.com – Flakka is a dangerous drug, but it doesn’t turn you into a zombie
- theconversation.com – Monkey Dust, Krokodil, Nyaope: why new drug concoctions keep appearing
- portal.ct.gov – Designer Drug Trends
- dea.gov – Khat
- loc.gov – Legal Status of Khat in Selected
- cnn.com – Starving Yemen’s drug problem
- https://adf.org.au – What is khat?
- drugabuse.gov – Synthetic Cathinones (“Bath Salts”) DrugFacts
- npr.org – Police Repeatedly Cite ‘Excited Delirium’ In Killings, But It Has No Real Definition
- forbes.com– The Straight Dope on What Bath Salts Do to Your Brain and Why They’re Dangerous
- cnn.com – Is street drug flakka gone for good?
- drugabuse.gov – Synthetic Cathinones (“Bath Salts”) DrugFacts
- mayoclinic.org – About Cognitive behavioral therapy
- drugabuse.gov – The Matrix Model (Stimulants)
- drugabuse.gov – Contingency Management Interventions/Motivational Incentives (Alcohol, Stimulants, Opioids, Marijuana, Nicotine)
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