Cathinone, a natural amphetamine

by Kalix P, Department of Pharmacology,
University of Geneva, Switzerland.
Pharmacol Toxicol 1992 Feb; 70(2):77-86


Cathinone is an alkaloid that has been discovered some fifteen years ago in the leaves of the khat bush. This plant grows in East Africa and in southern Arabia, and the inhabitants of these regions frequently chew khat because of its stimulating properties. Cathinone, which is S(-)-alpha-aminopropiophenone, was soon found to have a pharmacological profile closely resembling that of amphetamine; indeed, in a wide variety of in vitro and in vivo experiments it was demonstrated that cathinone shares the action of amphetamine on CNS as well as its sympathomimetic effects; thus, for example, drug-conditioned animals will not distinguish between cathinone and amphetamine. These various observations were confirmed by a clinical experiment showing that cathinone also in humans produces amphetamine-like objective and subjective effects. Finally, it was demonstrated that cathinone operates through the same mechanism as amphetamine, i.e. it acts by releasing catecholamines from presynaptic storage sites. Thus, much experimental evidence indicates that cathinone is the main psychoactive constituent of the khat leaf and that, in fact, this alkaloid is a natural amphetamine.