What is monkey dust? The zombie drug causing users to eat glass – allegedly
When it comes to reporting on drugs such as the so-called “monkey dust”, the press twists the truth and harms vulnerable people. We spoke to a substance use expert to get the facts.
Monkey dust is a drug turning people into “zombies” who leap off roofs, set fire to houses and eat through glass. At least that’s what Jack Brereton, the Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, wants you to think.
“We need to see reclassification and put the consequences up for those who are pushing this drug,” MP Brereton thundered in a BBC article last week, which referred to monkey dust as “a relatively new and dangerous street drug”.
So, what actually is monkey dust? “When we’re talking about monkey dust, we’re primarily talking about a drug with the acronym MDPHP (3,4‑methylenedioxy-α-pyrrolidinohexanophenone),” says Harry Sumnall, Professor in Substance Use at The Public Health Institute. “That was developed in the 1960s.” Basically, it’s a stimulant from the cathinone class, like mephedrone or 3‑MMC. It’s a Class B banned drug in the UK.
“When the press, media, politicians and the police are talking about this drug, it kind of covers a whole range of cathinones and potent psychostimulants,” continues Sumnall. The drug MDPV (Methylenedioxypyrovalerone) has also been mentioned, for example.
“It’s a hallucinogenic drug,” MP Brereton told the BBC. But cathinones are stimulants, not hallucinogenic drugs. According to Talk to Frank, cathinones “can cause feelings of euphoria and empathy as well as increasing alertness and talkativeness”, with effects similar to those of speed and MDMA.
In 2020, Professor Sumnall co-authored a study into the media coverage of so-called monkey dust and found that it’s a term proliferated by the tabloid press themselves. The study conducted an analysis of 368 press articles about monkey dust and found that it referred to a number of “inconsistently identified” drugs – often synthetic cathinone stimulants such as MDPHP and MDPV. The study concluded that monkey dust coverage stigmatises drug users while obscuring the complexities of drug addiction. And these are by no means new drugs. They’ve been on the party scene for at least a decade.
THE FACE contacted MP Jack Brereton to ask him about his claims that monkey dust causes people to jump off roofs. He declined to be interviewed, but his office sent a link to a tabloid scare story. Published in The Sun, it features a video of a man jumping from a roof, with the headline “drug monkey dust makes people leap off buildings”. When Vice’s Global Drugs Editor Max Daly reported on the video in 2020, however, he found that the footage was actually nine years old and there was no proof that the man had taken drugs.
The article in The Sun also says that monkey dust “has been linked to face-eating attacks in the US”. According to Daly, this is also a “long ago debunked scare story from America.”
Even the BBC pedals this rubbish. Last week on TikTok, they said that monkey dust had “led some users to jump off buildings.” In his BBC interview last week, MP Brereton claimed that “there is no treatment for those who become addicted”. This, according to Professor Sumnall, is factually incorrect – and dangerous.
“That’s rather concerning for a number of reasons,” he says. “Firstly, North Staffordshire and Stoke have excellent treatment services, they support people every day. And with stimulant drugs, there’s a range of interventions, for example, psychosocial interventions like talking therapies.”
There are still drug and alcohol clinics in the UK, despite the fact that Tories such as MP Brereton have nuked public health services in their decade-long austerity armageddon. “There is support there,” Sumnall continues. “So I think it’s problematic saying there’s no treatment because in regards to public perception, is this giving the impression that people using these drugs are beyond help?”
When THE FACE asked why MP Brereton claimed that no treatment is available for people addicted to cathinone stimulants, his spokesperson said: “There is no synthetic replacement as monkey dust is already a synthetic drug which makes developing a replacement drug service extremely difficult.” They did not elaborate on why he’s disregarded treatments already available on the NHS.
Last year, MP Brereton also claimed that “a resident actively ate through a glass window of a local shop while under the influence [of monkey dust]”. Despite sounding frankly stupid, this is another story that’s regurgitated by the press on repeat. The first reference of it I could find was from MP Brereton, so I asked him if there was any evidence this had happened. He did not respond to this question.
Earlier this week, The Sun ran another story on monkey dust. There were multiple factual errors in the title alone. It was titled: Our town is being overrun by hallucinating addicts who eat glass [there’s no evidence that cathinones cause people to eat glass] and jump off buildings [based on an old, debunked story] thanks to terrifying new [these drugs are not new] drug.
“Media reporting has real life impact in that it can lead to increased police action and in turn the further criminalisation of people who use drugs,” Sumnall’s study concluded. “It can have real life impact on the lived experiences of drug users by influencing public perceptions and attitudes.
“It is important to change these narratives to prevent the negative effects of media reporting and to ensure journalists report drug issues in ways that are better informed to prevent further harm to people who use drugs.”
The story of “monkey dust” is not one involving flesh-eating zombies eating windows. It’s one of weird media manipulation. While drug scare stories get more clicks and therefore more revenue for publishers, they also stigmatise, socially exclude and dehumanise some very vulnerable people.
We don’t have a problem with a terrifying new drug called monkey dust sweeping the nation – legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine are more prevalent than cathinones and cause more health concerns. We do, however, have a terrifying misinformation problem sweeping the nation.