What to Know About Fake Cocaine Use

Cocaine that has been cooked into Crack Cocaine Rocks

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Fake cocaine or "bath salts" is a designer drug that may contain substances such as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and is available online as a chemical. People who use it typically snort the powder to get high. As a result, it often goes by the nickname "fake cocaine."

In 2012, Congress passed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act. This act permanently placed 26 types of synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Also Known As: Some of the bath salts products that are used as fake cocaine are called Ivory Wave, Bliss, Blue Silk, Charge Plus, White Lightning (not to be confused with moonshine), Cloud 9, and Energy 1. There are a number of other product names, and they continually change.

Most often, however, these products are marketed as "bath salts." In attempts to thwart the law, they've also been labeled as "plant food," "glass cleaner," and "research chemicals."

Drug Class: Fake cocaine is classified as a stimulant, which means that it causes increased activity in the body, often leading to feelings of increased energy and alertness.

Common Side Effects: Some of the side effects of bath salts include chest pain, rapid pulse, high blood pressure, hallucinations, and paranoia.

How to Recognize Fake Cocaine

Synthetic cathinone usually appears as a white or light tan powder. It is sold in 500-milligram bottles or plastic bags labeled "bath salts." The packages may also include labels like "for novelty use only" or "not for human consumption."

What Does Fake Cocaine Do?

The active ingredient in bath salts products is the designer drug methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). It's structurally related to cathinone, an active alkaloid found in the khat plant. It is a central nervous system stimulant.

MDPV is in a class of drugs known as synthetic cathinones, variants of which have been used as ingredients in various bath salts products. Synthetic variants of cathinone can be much more potent than the natural khat product and sometimes very dangerous.

MDPV is also similar to pyrovalerone, a stimulant first synthesized in 1964. Sold under the trade names Centroton and Thymergix, pyrovalerone is used for the clinical treatment of chronic fatigue and as an appetite suppressant.

Like other "uppers," fake cocaine causes people to experience feelings of euphoria and alertness. Health officials have noted that people who use the drug report feelings of empathy, stimulation, alertness, and awareness of senses. The effects are likened to those of methamphetamine, MDMA, and cocaine. Fake cocaine can also lead to feelings of anxiety and agitation. Aggression and suicidal thoughts can also occur.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

What the Experts Say

Research on fake cocaine remains limited. One problem is that the ingredients and formulations used to make these synthetic drugs are not consistent. However, fake cocaine is highly addictive, with effects similar to cocaine and amphetamines. Therefore, more research is needed to examine the extent and consequences of fake cocaine use.

Off-Label Uses

MDPV is not approved for medical use in the United States. MDPV is the most common synthetic cathinone found in the systems of patients admitted to emergency rooms after taking bath salts.

How It's Taken

People typically snort the white powder to get high, but it can also be smoked or taken orally. Typically, synthetic cathinone loses its potency when mixed with a solution, so it's not commonly injected. However, more recent DEA reports do include this method.

Common Side Effects

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, bath salts can cause:

  • Excessively rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Kidney failure
  • Dehydration
  • Breakdown of muscle tissue

In addition, there are reports of death due to the abuse of this class of drugs.

Psychological Effects

MDPV has been in circulation since at least 2007 in Germany. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some of the reported psychological effects of MDPV and other synthetic cathinones include:

  • Paranoia 
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased sociability
  • Increased sex drive
  • Panic attacks
  • Excited delirium

Signs of Use

The use of fake cocaine can lead to erratic and unpredictable behavior. Many of the signs that someone is using fake cocaine are similar to cocaine itself. Some of the common signs of use include:

  • Changes in mood
  • Dilated pupils
  • Restlessness
  • Hallucinations
  • Anger or agitation
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Violent behavior
  • Presence of drug paraphernalia
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home, school, or work
  • Financial problems

While fake cocaine is anecdotally linked to violent behavior, not enough is yet known about its precise effect to suggest that using it can lead to homicidal behavior.

Due to the inconsistencies in the formulation, the effects of bath salts can be unpredictable, which increases the risk of accidental overdose. In addition, there is no way for people to determine the dose and purity of the substance, so the use of any amount has the potential for overdose. Signs of overdose include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Psychosis including paranoia and hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Severe agitation

If you suspect that someone has overdosed on fake cocaine, bath salts, or some other substance, contact emergency services immediately.

Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal

Fake cocaine can result in tolerance and dependence. Tolerance is characterized by needing increasingly larger or more frequent amounts of a substance in order to achieve the same effects.

Dependence refers to the need to keep taking the drug in order to avoid experiencing symptoms of withdrawal. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, people report that taking the drugs trigger an overwhelming desire to use the drugs again.

How Long Does Fake Cocaine Stay In Your System?

Fake cocaine acts quickly with peak effects occurring about 10 to 15 minutes. The effects last about half an hour. The exact half-life of these synthetic drugs have not been determined and may depend upon the ingredients, formulation, the amount used, and method of administration.


The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that synthetic cathinones can be addictive. Animal studies have revealed that subjects will self-administer these substances, and human users report intense urges to continue taking the drug.

One 2013 study published in the journal Neuropharmacology found that MDPV, one of the key ingredients found in fake cocaine, was highly addictive in rats. The study indicated that it may be more addictive than methamphetamine.


Because these substances are so addictive and withdrawal can have potentially dangerous effects, detox should be performed with the assistance of trained professionals. The severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary and may include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • tremors
  • problems sleeping
  • paranoia

How to Get Help

Dependence on fake cocaine can be treated successfully with a comprehensive approach. This can include inpatient or outpatient programs, many of which emphasize behavioral treatments to address various aspects of the patient's behavior and life.

Treatments often utilize cognitive-behavioral therapy that can be performed in individual sessions, through group therapy, or both. Other types of support can also be helpful including peer mentoring and support groups.

There are no currently approved medications to treat addictions to addiction to fake cocaine or bath salts. Other medications, such as antidepressants, may be used to treat symptoms of co-occurring anxiety and depression.

If you feel like you need assistance, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline at 800-662-4357 or use their online treatment locator.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Synthetic Cathinones ("Bath Salts").

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  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are the short-term effects of cocaine use?

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  8. Aarde SM, Huang PK, Creehan KM, Dickerson TJ, Taffe MA. The novel recreational drug 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) is a potent psychomotor stimulant: self-administration and locomotor activity in rats. Neuropharmacology. 2013;71:130-40. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2013.04.003

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By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.