“Cannibal” and “zombie” are two words linked to a new synthetic drug. How true is this relationship?
People transformed into zombies after using MDPV
Recently, the mass media claimed that in Miami a man had acted like a “zombie-like creature” that attacked another man and devoured his face, while in Majorca an extremely aggressive young English tourist had chased other tourists while trying to bite them. The alarming mass-media warned about a new drug called MDPV, sold as “bath salts”, that transforms drug users into cannibals. It seemed like zombie doomsday had started.
Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) is a synthetic cathinone, an analogue of the natural cathinone, which is an alkaloid presents in the plant Khat (Catha Edulis). It is a stimulant designer drug developed in 1969 by the Boehringer-Ingelheim pharmaceutical company, but it remained obscure until the late 2000’s when its popularity rose as a recreational drug distributed in Europe and the US, advertised as an alternative to cocaine due to its pharmacological similarity.
It is sold on the internet labelled as “bath salts” or “plant food” to circumvent legislation for controlled substances. In the streets it is commonly called “MDPK”, “MTV”, “Ivory”, “Ivory wave”, “Super Coke”, or “PV”. MDPV is a white, brown or yellow-green salt or grey amorphous crystalline powder that is commonly used by snorting, oral or rectal route.
MDPV: not so soothing bath salts
MDPV is a potent central and peripheral nervous system stimulant. Once they have taken MDPV, users feel euphoric, disinhibited, and stimulated. Also, an increase in cardiac rhythm, body temperature, and muscular hypertension causes users to undress. The psychoactive effects of MDPV may lead users to become deeply paranoid and believe that everyone surrounding them wants to attack them, leading them to become very aggressive and unafraid. They lose their bodily self-consciousness and do not even feel pain from a broken bone. Given this, it seems that MDPV users are not too different from zombies…
The stunning occurrence of out of control people biting and eating human flesh spread viral slander about a new cannibal drug. In spite of the alleged cannibalistic effects of MDPV, there is no “clinical or medical” case of cannibalism in the scientific literature. Moreover, studies of people that had used MDPV showed self-reported history of drug abuse, polysubstance abuse or history of mental illness. Before attributing “zombifying effects” or fatal intoxications to MDPV, we should wait for the result of toxicology analyses that confirm the presence of the synthetic drug in the user, before we can distinguish between a causal effect of MDPV or just an anecdotic case.
What does science know about MDPV?
Rats give us a model of how MDPV acts on the human body. The acute administration of MDPV in rats has shown that the drug directly affects thermoregulatory processes and locomotor activity. However, reports that document the clinical and subjective effects of isolated MDPV intoxication in humans are lacking. It is only rather recently that published reports of the toxic consequences of MDPV have begun to appear. The information is largely limited to case reports or self-reported experiences and bizarre behaviors on websites. There is no real agreement on what an overdose looks like, but they seem to be characterized convulsions, sweating, dizziness, confusion, agitation, aggression, auditory and visual hallucinations, violent outbursts and paranoid psychosis. The liability for addiction and dependence is still unknown. Further investigations into the pharmacology and effects of MDPV will tell us if you should start prioritizing supplies for an upcoming zombie apocalypse.