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Charting the Relatively Unknown
A Study of Four Cathinones
by Fridjof Waleenstedt with Knut Bbjornstrand
June 2012
Citation:   Waleenstedt F, Bbjornstrand K. "Charting the Relatively Unknown: A Study of Four Cathinones". Erowid Extracts. Jun 2012;22:8-11.
Some time ago, I read a trip report in which the author made negative remarks about Ritalin (methylphenidate), indicating that he had nothing but uncomfortable experiences leaving him feeling jittery, sick, and cracked out. "Fair enough," I thought, "Ritalin is not for everyone." But later in the report, he casually mentioned that his typical dose was 100 mg! "Well," I thought, "perhaps if he simply lowered the dose, the drug would have provided the effects that he was hoping for."

People have countless reasons for taking psychoactive drugs, and experimentation with these compounds is frequently carried out in a casual manner. The young man described above might have been told that "a dose" of Ritalin was 100 mg, and he might have seen his friends routinely take that amount. It might not have even occurred to him that people can have varying degrees of sensitivity to any given compound. Experience reports often reveal a lack of foresight by their authors, with respect to their gaining an overall understanding of a compound's effects through experimentation with various doses and settings. Perhaps it is this tendency toward casual use, more than anything else, which underlies bad experiences and misadventure.

Ultimately I came around to reflecting on my own drug use patterns. As a longstanding teary-eyed fan of Sasha Shulgin and his life's work, my consumption of psychoactive drugs has been inspired by a sense of curiosity, discovery, and intrigue. The very term "research chemical" evokes a feeling of delight and wonder, and could not be more apt. Like some people, I've made it a sort of hobby to carry out a sustained research program of my own. Why? Because that's where one is likely to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not just a single pot, but potentially many pots... and vessels, chests, and loot bags! An intentional, deliberate approach toward understanding a psychoactive drug, whether it sprouts from the ground or arrives in the mailbox from a lab in China, allows one to fine-tune one's range of experiences, dramatically reducing bad trips and enhancing benefits.

When I stumbled upon an online vendor that carried a selection of cathinones about which there was little available information, I saw these as a perfect subject for my studies, and decided to do a comparative assessment of four different chemicals. Hoping to increase the value of my data, I engaged a knowledgeable associate to join me in my quest. The following documents our journeys.

Substituted Cathinones
Cathinone is a chemical found in the khat plant (Catha edulis). It has the same base structure as amphetamine with an oxygen atom added to the side chain. "Substituted cathinones" are variants of cathinone where changes are made to the molecule by removing one atom or functional group and replacing it with another. A number of substituted cathinones have become available on the research chemical market in the last decade. Almost all are euphoric stimulants.

The Substances
  • 4-methylmethcathinone (4-MMC, mephedrone, m-cat)
  • Ethylcathinone (e-cat, ethcathinone)
  • 4-fluoromethcathinone (4-FMC, flephedrone)
  • 4-methylethcathinone (4-MEC)
Methods
Each substance was taken both orally and via insufflation multiple times over a period of a few months in a variety of settings. Experiments with insufflation generally included a "low" dose (5-15 mg), a "moderate" dose (~30 mg), and a "high" dose (~50 mg), and often included repeated doses over a few hours, never exceeding 100 mg in total. Oral doses included a "moderate" dose (100-150 mg), and a "high" dose (250-300 mg). For high dose experiments, we started with an initial dose of 100 mg, with successive 50 mg boosters every 45 minutes until we felt the true "high dose" nature of the drug was understood, (with all of these dose level terms being used somewhat loosely).

Fridjof Waleenstedt's Story
The substituted cathinones have a special place in my heart. These wonderful chemicals can serve so many purposes, from providing energy at the end of a long day, to lending compassion when I need to go inward, to sending tingles up and down my spine when I'm making love. Perhaps their only downfall, and this is relatively minor, is a short duration of action, which makes it a bit difficult to maintain a significant plateau without frequent re-dosing. Although all four of the substances used in these trials are closely related chemically, I found their effect profiles to be distinct. I would only consider two of the four worthy of further exploration. 4-Methylmethcathinone (4-MMC)

Although 4-MMC was not the best at anything, it was very good at everything, and it's this versatility that made it so great: it's an effective stimulant, empathogen, euphoriant, and social elixir, and it causes few negative side effects during comedown. I could name substances that outperform 4-MMC in each of these categories, but I've yet to try any substance that performs as well across the board. Insufflating this material is nasty. It burns like hell and the dry mouth it causes would make the hardiest of desert lizards cringe. Although doses in the 10-20 mg range provided a nice energy boost for a hike in the park or cleaning the house, there was a mild, underlying body load that offset the benefits, and I always felt a bit too confused to do anything requiring mental acuity. 30-50 mg doses seemed to have more merit, lending an empathic euphoria to social occasions and lovemaking, although one really has to be a bit of a trooper (or a nut) to snort that much 4-MMC up their nose at once. I certainly don't recommend it.

Orally, 4-MMC provided the underlying foundation for many great parties. I found my sweet zone at 100 mg, followed every 45 minutes with another 50 mg (up to a total dose of 300 mg). It felt a little bit like MDMA or methylone without the rolling eyes and all the gushy fawning and blabbering. The stimulation is significant however, and the resulting tachycardia was nothing that could be or should be ignored. I found that 300 mg over the course of an evening made sleep impossible without pharmaceutical intervention, as I was unable to ignore my heart beating at 100 BPM well after returning to baseline.

While 4-MMC hasn't risen to fame as a therapeutic powerhouse in the way that MDMA has, I found it to be quite respectable as a therapeutic tool. I had many deep and healing conversations on this substance, and in some ways it provides a bit more clarity than MDMA. I found it to be an excellent follow-up to MDMA when staying awake into the wee hours, for example, while watching the sun rise over the playa at Burning Man and still having the energy to socialize over morning tea.

Ethylcathinone (Ethcathinone)
Of all four substances, this one was the clear winner when used in moderate insufflated doses (20-35 mg). It not only ran away with the cake, but the pastries, the table, and the tablecloth, too. Whether the activity included office work, therapy, strolling through a museum, making love, or preparing a fine meal, ethcathinone provided a subtle energy and empathogenic clarity to everything; and although it doesn't last long (45-60 minutes), I only needed to snort another small amount to bring back the subtle glow. When it wore off, it disappeared with nary a trace.

Larger oral doses resulted in the same glorious effects. I'd find myself falling in love with everyone and everything all over again. Although I wouldn't suggest it is likely to open the doors as widely as MDMA, it had a clarity and sense of calm unmatched by MDMA or 4-MMC. During an extended stroll down a mountain road in a snowfall on 280 mg (100+50+50+80), the conversation flowed like honey and everything felt magical and safe. Its potential use as a therapeutic tool became crystal clear; and after a few trials, I thought I might have found the holy grail. Alas, not so. Every light source has a shadow.

Whether oral or insufflated, that shadow arose when the doses got larger. After a moderate oral dose of 150 mg, I was left feeling pretty sketched-out. The comedown was surprisingly nasty given the mild, pleasing experience. At 280 mg the comedown was even harder, stripping me of the energy to do anything. After four hours I lay couch-locked: mouth dry, jaw clenched, and shaking, with a hollow feeling in my gut. But provided the dose is kept low, ethcathinone holds a spot on my list of favorites, with lovemaking and therapeutic conversations my preferred activities.

4-Fluoromethcathinone (4-FMC)
Forced at gunpoint to describe this substance using four words, I'd call it "the cocaine of cathinones". But that really gives 4-FMC a bit too much credit. It doesn't have the wonderful, self-image-inflating quality of cocaine, nor does it provide any significant feelings of euphoria. While 4-fluoromethcathinone is reasonably useful as a stimulant at various dosages, there are well-studied pharmaceuticals that perform much better. 4-FMC always left me with a sort of "so what?" feeling and no urge whatsoever to take my experiments further; indeed, it was mundane in all the same ways that 4-MMC was not. So despite not having any specific negative marks against it, without any notable positive effects, and with an unknown safety profile, it just didn't seem worth exploring further.

That said, I did enter a pumpkin-carving contest while on 250 mg of this substance, and fared quite well. It's hard to say whether my pumpkin would have turned out any less fantastic had I not taken 4-FMC. I suppose there is always next Halloween.

4-Methylethcathinone (4-MEC)
4-MEC was no better than 4-FMC in revealing any useful or enjoyable effects. However, the substance did have one strange yet notable quality. For insufflated doses of 30 mg or more, or oral doses of 100 mg or more, the come-up manifested with a rather intense rush. So much of a rush, in fact, that at times I had a momentary feeling of panic, wondering if I had overdosed. But this feeling would always pass quickly and leave next to nothing in its wake.

Oddly enough, re-dosing had barely any effect. For example, in the high dose oral experiment, I took 100 mg and had one of these uncomfortable, rushy onsets while cutting out small cardboard Santa Clauses for a Christmas art project. As previously planned, I reluctantly took my booster at 45 minutes in, fearing what might happen. But in the end, I felt almost no change. The second and third boosters seemed to have no effect at all. So I abandoned the experiment 50 mg early (total dose 250 mg), because I actually felt close to baseline and saw no point in taking the experiment further.

Other than the rushy coming-up period, the effects could be succinctly characterized as a mild stimulation and body load, a fullness in the eyeballs, and a vague feeling that my head was floating about three inches higher that it should have been.

Knut Bbjornstrand's Story
I was excited when Fridjof first asked me to participate in this study. The prospect of repeatedly getting high with an academic justification sounded like a great idea. However, my impressions slowly changed as the experiments progressed. What I thought would be a lot of fun actually turned out to be grueling, laborious work: carefully documenting all of my experiences, managing the bodily discomforts that sometimes occurred, enduring the intensity of the crash-outs that often followed these sessions, and, finally, being told to capture the essence of it all in 1,500 words or less! Okay, I admit there was a bit of fun, too. But at one point in the study I remember thinking, "After this is all over, I'm going to need a good long period of sobriety." Indeed, I did just that.

In the end, I learned a lot about these cathinones and the many fun, not-so-fun, and not-fun-but-worthy uses for them. I'm glad that I participated, but I wouldn't want to repeat the experience.

4-Methylmethcathinone (4-MMC)
4-MMC might better be dubbed the King of Cathinones! For me this was the substance with the least body load and the most significant empathogenic, euphoric, and stimulating effects, making it the perfect party companion (among other things). Of the four sampled, this cathinone was most suited to dancing and socializing late into the night, something I often enjoy doing. At the higher end, the 100 mg starter dose with 50 mg boosters every 45 minutes (up to 300 mg over the course of the night) kept me sufficiently elevated. Whereas if I wanted to get to sleep at a decent hour, a single 175 mg dose was more appropriate; this dose produced strong and pleasant effects, but dropped off soon enough to have me back down to baseline in three to four hours.

As for insufflating 4-MMC, I found low doses of 3-10 mg to be great for a little boost in just about any setting. However, an insufflated dose of 15-20 mg could result in me feeling a bit queasy if done by itself, so it is not the substance I'd turn to for "getting shit done". On the other hand, 15-20 mg insufflated booster doses taken after the peak of a larger oral dose were a perfectly comfortable addition to keep me going just a little bit longer when I was having a good time and not ready to go home. Despite the qualities that lent themselves so well to long, loud parties, I was also surprised at the therapeutic potential of this one. I had some really meaningful conversations on 4-MMC, and it was easy to talk about personal issues. This aspect, coupled with the euphoric stimulation, makes 4-MMC a powerful ally.

Ethylcathinone (Ethcathinone)
Like Fridjof, I found ethcathinone to be useful in moderate insufflated doses of 20-30 mg. For one of the trials I used repeated insufflated doses of 20 mg every hour or two for sightseeing in an unfamiliar city. It provided energy for the many museums I visited, as well as a late-night visit to the theater. Upon returning to the hotel, I don't think I would have been able to muster up the energy for lovemaking without it, and to that end it served me well. I've also used these low doses to assist with writing, administrative drudgery, and household chores, finding them to be beneficial in sharpening concentration and providing energy and motivation.

Larger oral doses, between 150 and 250 mg, gave rise to ebullience--an upbeat, warm, fuzzy feeling about my life, my friends, family, and co-workers. I felt nostalgic in a nice way, remembering wonderful childhood experiences with my brother. Although I longed for the closeness we shared before we were separated by distance, I also gained insight into communications and relationship dynamics with people at my work, and I gained a better understanding and appreciation for some of them. This turned out to be very rewarding, so I feel that this substance has strong therapeutic/empathic qualities and potential.

Also like Fridjof, oral doses of 150-250 mg brought on a bit of a rough come-down, with the "crack factor" being directly related to the dosage. Hence, I wasn't interested in taking more than 250 mg. If I were to do it again, I would likely stick to taking 100-150 mg orally, or using low insufflated doses for myriad situations in which I might require a boost of energy, empathy, and concentration. Overall I would describe ethcathinone as a light, yet versatile, empathogen/stimulant.

4-Fluoromethcathinone (4-FMC)
4-FMC turned out to be a valuable tool for increasing energy, motivation, and, to some degree, concentration. These benefits manifested during the pumpkin-carving contest that Fridjof mentioned; although I didn't win, I was pretty impressed with my results. 4-FMC didn't really have any other remarkable qualities.

For general stimulation, insufflated doses of 30-50 mg and oral doses of 100-200 mg seemed to work best. Some useful settings for taking 4-FMC included mundane chores and house cleaning, maintaining my awareness at a late-night dinner party where too much food and drink were consumed and I felt sleepy, and hiking in a botanical garden where I hoped to learn and memorize a few new names of exotic plant species. There was relatively little body load or "crack out" afterwards, which I suppose might make it more enticing and easy to overuse for some, but I didn't feel any compulsive urges to redose.

Further study of this rare chemical could turn out to be worthwhile. However, I don't feel that 4-FMC had any pronounced advantages over better-known and more thoroughly researched stimulants, such as cocaine or methylphenidate (aside from the convenience of being able to buy it online without a prescription, which is a dubious advantage).

4-Methylethcathinone (4-MEC)
Of the four cathinones that I studied, this was the most difficult and the least rewarding. Similar to Fridjof's experience, I found the come-up to be overly rushy, the peak effect short-lived, and the tailspin crash pretty rough. The experience could be likened to the thrill of skydiving: intense for a minute and over with all at once, leaving one with nothing but a sick stomach from the fall and a smaller bank account.

Strangely, boosters seemed to do very little. It was as if I developed an immediate tolerance to the drug's actions. I also experienced greater body load on this one, mainly in the form of nausea, heartburn, and heart palpitations; so it's safe to say I won't be knocking anyone over in an attempt to get more of this stuff.


Above all we should repeatedly remind ourselves that such pursuits should never be considered "safe".

 
The first oral 100 mg dose went reasonably well, so I thought that it would become more interesting at higher doses. But I was wrong. I simply got more of the pukey feelings. I found myself gagging with my eyes watering on the comedown, although I never actually vomited. There was also some pronounced appetite suppression. So while the 100 mg oral dose worked well for conversation as I was entertaining dinner guests, it wasn't a great choice for enjoying the food I'd just made. The higher oral dose produced some nystagmus and might have been fun for a thirty-minute dance party, but that kind of payoff wouldn't be worth the price of admission.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I couldn't perform the insufflated dose trials of this substance. Near the end of the 3-4 month period that these experiments took place, I developed some ongoing low-grade sinusitis, so I decided it was in my best interest to swear off insufflating anything for a good long time. Although I do think that the previous experiments played a role in my poor state of health, it is hard to say if they were the sole cause, as there were a lot of nasty colds, flus, and upper respiratory infections at my workplace around that time.

Summary
It's important to point out that none of the substances used in these experiments were verified for identity or purity. The best the authors can say is that the effects we experienced were consistent with the limited available data obtained elsewhere. So consistent, in fact, that we have no reason to suspect that these materials were anything other than what they were sold as. Nevertheless, readers should keep in mind the possibility of mislabeling or impurities.

When all was said and done, we were left wondering, once again, what motivates individuals to do this kind of research. We recognize the inherent risks of these activities on many levels. Is the drive to consume novel chemicals similar to the drive that leads folks to jump off a bridge with an oversized elastic band tied around their ankles? Perhaps, but given that the potential dangers of bungee jumping are well-understood, usually mitigated, and the results are quite predictable (most of the time), we suspected that the drive to explore new psychoactives might be a bit more abstract.

We ended up agreeing that we feel a kind of calling from a deep place within our own consciousness. Some might say it is a calling from the soul, or from our daemons, but clearly we are not alone. There are many people around the world who voluntarily perform such research on themselves. In doing so, we expose ourselves to a wide range of experiences, both positive and negative. Some will be transformative, and some even transcendent. Above all we should repeatedly remind ourselves that such pursuits should never be considered "safe". However, we can study as much as possible before consuming something new, remain vigilant, measure doses carefully, and seek out the safest paths possible.