What is the most recent evidence-based data on the use of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones?

The Bottom Line: The two classes of designer drugs that have recently risen to prominence are the synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones. These substances are not detected by conventional drug screening methods and can often be associated with serious health consequences.

Reference: Rech, MA et al.  New drugs of abuse. Pharmacotherapy. 2015 Feb;35(2):189-97. 

Summary: Drug abuse is a common problem and growing concern in the United States, and over the past decade, novel or atypical drugs have emerged and have become increasingly popular. Recognition and treatment of new drugs of abuse pose many challenges for health care providers due to lack of quantitative reporting and routine surveillance, and the difficulty of detection in routine blood and urine analyses. Furthermore, street manufacturers are able to rapidly adapt and develop new synthetic isolates of older drugs as soon as law enforcement agencies render them illegal. In this article, we describe the clinical and adverse effects and purported pharmacology of several new classes of drugs of abuse including syntheticcannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, salvia, desomorphine, and kratom. Because many of these substances can have severe or life-threatening adverse effects, knowledge of general toxicology is key in recognizing acute intoxication and overdose; however, typical toxidromes (e.g., cholinergic, sympathomimetic, opioid, etc.) are not precipitated by many of these agents. Medical management of patients who abuse or overdose on these drugs largely consists of supportive care, although naloxone may be used as an antidote for desomorphine overdose. Symptoms of aggression and psychosis may be treated with sedation (benzodiazepines, propofol) and antipsychotics (haloperidol or atypical agents such as quetiapine or ziprasidone). Other facets of management to consider include treatment for withdrawal or addiction, nutrition support, and potential for transmission of infectious diseases.

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