The Daily Mail:
There are fears that a string of fatal overdoses this summer have been caused by the toxic substance bath salts after it was pushed to young festival-goers as the party drug 'Molly', officials said today.
The substance had been sold to at least one young person as 'molly' - a potent form of ecstasy - but was in fact the meth-like street drug bath salts.
Officially known as methylone, it can have similar effects to ecstasy or MDMA on the user.
It has been confirmed as cause of death of a 20-year-old man and is suspected in the deaths of others.
As you can see in this structural diagram, methylone is the cathinone cousin of 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) which is the canonical psychoactive of both Ecstasy and Molly.I am delighted to see some actual toxicity data followup reporting. Perhaps other sources will have more specifics with regard to the medical examiner's findings and the various drugs found in the decedent's blood. For now, however, at least we have something to go on.
And I covered one prior Case Report containing three methylone-related deaths. And as I noted there, we know perfectly well that MDMA itself is capable of killing people.
It would not be at all surprising if methylone deaths were via the same neuropharmacological triggers, see Baumann et al 2012 and Simmler et al, 2013. Certainly what one can glean from the symptoms is very familiar.
I take issue, however, with the Louise Boyle piece in the Daily Mail. We can start from the headline:
Did all these festival-goers die from taking BATH SALTS? One death confirmed as fears others were duped into buying toxic street drug while believing it was 'molly'
See that? Nice trick. Methylone is a "toxic street drug" while apparently 'molly' is no such thing. Bzzzt, wrong. Methylone and MDMA are the same category of thing. Recreational drugs obtained from sources of dubious quality. Trying to distinguish one as a "toxic street drug" as different from the other is silly and nonsensical.
next we have this whopper:
but was in fact the meth-like street drug bath salts
Another report from the NY Post goes down the same path of underinformed sensationalism:
New York club kids who use the party drug Molly ... are often being peddled deadly “bath salts” by ruthless dealers,...The dangerous narcotic — which causes a violent, meth-like high — has killed at least one reveler this year and is being eyed in the deaths of two partiers at the Electric Zoo festival on Randall’s Island two weeks ago...Known to drug regulators as methylone
The term "bath salts" is just a nickname. It is no different than Ecstasy, molly, crack, crystal, weed, smack. It has meaning in so far as there is a consensus use of it, but in the absence of consensus it is near meaningless. I would say that at this point in time "bath salts" in the US can mean any of the substituted cathinone drugs. There was a time when I might have said it was semi-uniquely referring to 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) but given the diversity in the market this is no longer correct.
The above referenced papers from Baumann and Simmler, and this additional one from Baumann, should tell the tale about the "meth-like" charge as well. While some of the substituted cathinones could be argued to be "meth-like", methylone sure isn't one of them. In fact the neuropharmacology suggests "MDMA-like" if anything. And really, given the most popular cathinones being used to date, it is silly to say that bath salts are meth-like. Mephedrone and methylone are MDMA-like in many ways and MDPV is turning out to be more like cocaine in activity. That's neuropharmacology, for the most part. When we look at compulsive use and propensity for addiction it in fact looks like methylone (Watterson et al, 2012) and mephedrone (Hadlock et al, 2011; Aarde et al, 2013a; Motbey et al, 2013) might have more reinforcing effect in rodent models than would be expected for a MDMA-like drug (see Schenk 2009; de la Garza et al, 2007 for review). In some of these studies the authors show data suggesting* the "MDMA-like" cathinones might actually be more effective in self-administration than methamphetamine. MDPV appears to generate more compulsive use than does methamphetamine (Watterson et al, 2012; Aarde et al 2013b). So, I suppose if the journalists mean the compulsive-use or reinforcing value as indexed by rat self-administration studies then they might have some defense for the "meth-like" charge. Somehow I doubt they are so informed.
When we are talking the acute overdose profile, the symptoms sure sound like MDMA and the relative reinforcing properties are most likely not directly related.
Oh boy. As I was writing this, some tox reporting from the New York Electric Zoo overdoses (it also repeated the methylone finding for Mr. Rybarczyk). James C. McKinley Jr reports at an Arts Beat blog at the NYT:
Toxicology results showed Ms. Rotondo died from acute intoxication after taking pure MDMA, the euphoria-producing drug sold on the street in pill form as ecstasy and in powdered form as molly, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office.
Mr. Russ had taken a fatal mix of MDMA and methylone, a closely related stimulant that is also often sold under the name molly.
Nice to see some confirmation since there are definitely other drugs to suspect, like PMA and PMMA, when it comes to rave-drug overdoses.
*there are some methodological questions to be answered. I'd like to see a few more comparisons, myself.