Monkey Dust: Britain's Deadly New Drug Problem

Naomi Carr
Dr. Celeste Small
Written by Naomi Carr on 15 February 2024
Medically reviewed by Dr. Celeste Small on 11 June 2024

Monkey dust is the name of a synthetic substance that is being used for its euphoric and hallucinogenic effects with increasing frequency in some parts of the UK. It can cause severe and sometimes life-threatening effects and can have a significantly detrimental impact on physical and mental well-being.

Monkey Dust: Britain's Deadly New Drug Problem

What is Monkey Dust?

Monkey dust is the street name for methylenedioxy-α-pyrrolidinohexiophenone, or MDPHP, which is similar to another widely used substance known as MDPV. Monkey dust is a synthetic cathinone, commonly referred to as ‘bath salts’, which are designed to produce similar effects to other central nervous system (CNS) stimulants such as MDMA (ecstasy) and methamphetamine.

Cathinone naturally occurs in the khat plant. Chewing khat leaves for a stimulant effect has long been a tradition in various parts of East Africa and the Arabian peninsula. Since the 1960s, the naturally occurring compound has been synthesized to produce several synthetic cathinones, for medicinal or illicit use, gaining popularity in the 1990s.

Monkey dust is banned in the US and is a Class B substance in the UK, making it illegal to possess and sell. However, according to some reports, its use is increasing in various places in the UK, particularly in Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire. This is believed to be related to the austerity of the area and the cheap cost and accessibility of monkey dust.

Why are synthetic cathinones dangerous?

While some synthetic cathinones are used medicinally, such as bupropion and pyrovalerone, monkey dust and other synthetic cathinones, including Flakka, are misused and abused. This can lead to several dangerous effects.

As a CNS stimulant, monkey dust can cause severe effects on cardiac and respiratory functioning, particularly if used in high doses. It is fast-acting and short-lasting, with potent effects emerging quickly and lasting 2-4 hours. This can lead users to take repeated doses as the effects wear off, increasing the toxicity and potential risks.

Monkey dust is a very potent substance that creates an extreme high, which can contribute to potential dangers from erratic or reckless behaviors or from accidental overdose. Due to its potency, monkey dust can cause potentially life-threatening effects and can lead to the development of stimulant use disorder.

Monkey dust and similar substances can have a significant impact on sleep, appetite, and hydration, which can lead to dangerous mental and physical effects.

Additional dangers can occur depending on the route of administration. For example, intranasal inhalation (snorting) can lead to nosebleeds and nasal damage, while injecting can lead to infection, skin and vascular damage, and diseases from shared needles such as Hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS.

Side effects of monkey dust

The side effects of monkey dust might differ from person to person and can vary depending on the dose, route of administration, and frequency of use. Some of the reported side effects of monkey dust include:

  • Violence and aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions
  • Unpredictable behavior
  • Reckless and dangerous behavior
  • Impulsivity
  • Euphoria
  • Increased energy
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Reduced appetite
  • Tension in the face and jaw
  • Anxiety
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Hot flushes
  • Chest pain
  • Dehydration
  • Extreme change in mental state
  • Seizures
  • Cardiac issues

Is monkey dust addictive?

Currently, there is limited data on the effects of monkey dust and its potential for addiction. However, similar substances such as other ‘bath salts’ and CNS stimulants are known to be highly addictive and have a high potential for dependence.

Evidence suggests that monkey dust impacts the levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, similar to various other illicit substances that are known to be addictive. Dopamine is primarily involved in the reward circuit in the brain, creating the feeling of euphoria or ‘high’. This reinforces substance use and can contribute to the development of an addiction.

Monkey dust is very fast-acting and the effects wear off quickly, which can lead to repeated dosing in a short period of time, thereby increasing the risk of dependence and addiction.

Due to its cheap cost, monkey dust is often used by people with a previous substance use disorder, either in addition to or as a replacement for other substances.

Monkey dust overdose

People using monkey dust may be at risk of accidental overdose, due to the potency of the substance, which can lead to severe or even life-threatening effects. Signs of an overdose include:

  • Extreme increase or irregularity in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Tremors and shaking
  • Slowed or stopped breathing
  • Delirium
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Hyperthermia
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Loss of consciousness 

In the event of an overdose, call 911 (in the US) or 999 (in the UK) immediately.

The importance of testing substances for contaminants like monkey dust

There is no safe level of drug use, but for those who use substances, it is important to be aware of the contents before using. It is not uncommon for dealers to substitute or mix cheaper substances, such as monkey dust, with others, such as MDMA to make more profit.

This can create a higher risk of overdose or severe effects, particularly if the individual is unaware of the substance they are taking. Monkey dust is very potent, so a dangerously high dose might be administered unwittingly. This can also cause issues if medical professionals need to treat an overdose, as different substances require different types of treatment.

Additionally, it is important to know if a substance is contaminated with monkey dust as a combination of substances can create increased risks. For example, combining CNS stimulants can increase the risk of dangerous cardiac effects such as heart attack or stroke. Combining a CNS stimulant and CNS depressant such as opioids can mask the effects of both substances, potentially leading to increased dosage use and a sudden onset of extreme effects when one wears off before the other.

Several products, services, and organizations are available that can test the content of substances before use for the user’s safety and to inform their decision around drug use.

Resources:

  1. BBC News. (2018). Monkey Dust Drug Use 'an Epidemic', Emergency Workers Warn. BBC. Retrieved from
  2. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. (2019). 'Monkey Dust' - Busting the Myths. ADF. Retrieved from
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2023). Synthetic Cathinones ("Bath Salts"). NIDA. Retrieved from
  4. Baumann, M.H., Walters, H.M., Niello, M., & Sitte, H.H. (2018). Neuropharmacology of Synthetic Cathinones. Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, 252, 113–142. Retrieved from
  5. Daly, M. (2023). The True Horror Behind Britain's 'Monkey Dust' Drug Scare Story. VICE. Retrieved from
  6. Capriola, M. (2013). Synthetic Cathinone Abuse. Clinical Pharmacology:Advances and Applications, 5, 109–115. Retrieved from
  7. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. (2024). Synthetic Cathinones. ADF. Retrieved from
  8. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d). Bath Salts. DEA. Retrieved from
  9. Maghsoudi, N., Tanguay, J., Scarfone, K., Rammohan, I., Ziegler, C., Werb, D., & Scheim, A.I. (2022). Drug Checking Services for People Who Use Drugs: A Systematic Review. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 117(3), 532–544. Retrieved from

Activity History - Last updated: 11 June 2024, Published date:


Reviewer

Dr. Celeste Small

Pharm.D, RPh.

Celeste Small, PharmD. is a licensed and practicing pharmacist and medical writer who specializes in different substances, the effects of substance abuse, and substance use disorder.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 14 February 2024 and last checked on 11 June 2024

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Celeste Small

Pharm.D, RPh.

Dr. Celeste Small

Reviewer

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