New targets identified that may explain pronounced side effects of bath salts

Mayah Waltower

Synthetic cathinones, also known as “bath salts,” cause psychoactive effects similar to amphetamine and cocaine, including euphoria and increased energy. Certain synthetic cathinones, however, cause more pronounced side effects, such as delirium and increased heart rate. While researchers understand that synthetic cathinones, amphetamines and cocaine work predominantly by binding to proteins that lead to increased dopamine and norepinephrine, scientists have yet to understand how some synthetic cathinones cause more pronounced adverse effects.

One research team in Mercer’s College of Pharmacy recently discovered other targets that certain synthetic cathinones bind to, and this activity might explain their unique adverse effects. Dr. Clinton Canal, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, and Ph.D. candidate Yiming Chen examined the interaction between synthetic cathinones and muscarinic acetylcholine receptors, an important class of proteins that regulate cognition, memory, and heart rate. They found that some synthetic cathinones blocked two types of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors, called M1 and M2 receptors, commonly found in the autonomic and central nervous systems. This finding provides a possible explanation for the adverse psychological and cardiovascular effects caused when synthetic cathinones enter the body.

The study was rated on F1000 Prime, where thousands of experts across the world connect and highlight important emerging research, as “exceptional” and an “interesting hypothesis.”

The paper, “Structure–Activity Relationship Study of Psychostimulant Synthetic Cathinones Reveals Nanomolar Antagonist Potency of α-Pyrrolidinohexiophenone at Human Muscarinic M2 Receptors” was published in February in ACS Chemical Neuroscience.