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USDTL Research

“Bath Salts” (Designer Stimulants) Analysis in Umbilical Cord Specimens

By Charles A. Plate, Ph.D. Laboratory Director, USDTL

“Bath Salts”, a group of designer stimulants that have recently been marketed as “legal” highs, which can be consumed without repercussions, have proven to be anything but safe or harmless. The “Bath Salts” products usually contain one or more synthetically produced derivatives of cathinone, the active ingredient in Khat (Catha edulis), a hallucinogenic plant found in eastern Africa.

Mephedrone and methylone have somewhat similar pharmacology to methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in that they affect both dopamine and serotonin release, with serotonin release being the more predominant effect seen. The serotonin pharmacology may be part of the NAS-like behavior newborns sometimes exhibit following exposure to mephedrone and methylone since newborns exposed to SSRI’s for extended time prior to delivery may also show NAS-like symptoms.

Other members of the “Bath Salts” such as methylenedioxypyrovalerone exhibit pharmacology more similar to methylphenidate in that it affects the dopamine and norepinephrine transporters, blocking reuptake of these neurotransmitters. MDPV, which is four times as potent on a weight basis as methylphenidate, is a powerful stimulant with little effect on the serotonergic system.

Since “Bath Salts” are seldom the same mix of compounds, the analysis needs to cover as many of the suspected drugs as can be reasonably performed. In this regard, USDTL performs an analysis for eight designer stimulants, Mephedrone, Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, Methylone, Ethylone, Butylone, MBDB, mCPP, and TFMPP. The designer stimulants can be added to any of the CordStat® panels. The samples are analyzed using gold standard LC-MS/MS technology.

Editor’s Note: “Face eating zombie” headlines catch our eye but make light of the fast-paced trend toward an addiction that some researchers say is worse than Methamphetamine. Antidotal evidence tells us that NICU doctors and nurses find themselves faced with women delivering babies while high on designer stimulants. Babies come to the NICU with symptoms of SSRI, opiate or cocaine withdrawal, but do not test positive for these substances, leaving caregivers at a loss as to how to properly treat the baby. USDTL’s new test for designer stimulants in umbilical cord tissue is leading the way to quicker diagnosis and proper healthcare for baby.


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