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Scientists at Anglia Ruskin University found that benzylpiperazine (BZP) can cause serious damage to the body.
Although the ingredient does not produce the same high to users as the original main ingredient, MDMA, it is toxic to cells, the study found.
The scientists analysed the most serious effects of BZP and other compounds in a class known as piperazines.
Cells derived from the liver and kidney were exposed to BZP at concentrations that reflected a dose for a user of the drug. Any significant changes, such as how the drug interfered with the natural process of cells dying off, were noted.
The results showed that BZP itself was toxic to the kidney and its starting material, piperazine hexahydrate, was toxic to the liver.
Professor Mike Cole, one of the researchers on the study, said: “The work is important because it begins to provide an explanation of why people who have taken these drugs exhibit the symptoms that they do in A&E rooms.
“It also shows that different batches of drugs will have different effects because of the different proportions of drug and impurity in the material, and that users are exposed to toxic mixtures of drugs for which both the short and longer-term effects will not be known and cannot easily be predicted.”
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