Bath salts is a term used to refer to artificially produced recreational drugs commonly used by substance abusers. These drugs are made with previously legal substances that may have potentially dangerous effects on users. Made in labs using artificial stimulants much like amphetamines and intended to mimic the effects of similar hard drugs, bath salts are often passed off as less potent than their counterparts but their side effects can be just as or even more dangerous. In 2012, President Barack Obama passed legislation via the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, which officially banned bath salts and similar drugs. These substances are also banned in other countries such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Their control has been difficult due to the wide varieties available and the clandestine packaging and distribution methods used by producers, making it difficult to distinguish them from salts used for bathing.
Bath salts are artificially created in a lab much like methamphetamines (similar psychotic drugs). The precise chemical make-up of bath salts is unknown as various manufacturers may employ different combination of chemicals at different ratios, employing a mixture of both legal and illegal substances. It is widely felt that the most common ingredient in bath salts is one of several synthetic variants of the chemical cathinone, a compound with properties similar to amphetamines. Some of the more common synthetic versions of cathinone are methylenedioxypyrovalerone, abbreviated MDPV, methylone and mephedrone, among others. MDPV and Mephedrone are whitish in appearance but the latter may sometimes appear slightly yellowish. Scientists, doctors and police believe, however, that newer varieties are being developed with both legal and illegal substances making analysis of their make-up even more challenging. The more common substance identified by emergency room doctors treating patients who report or are suspected to have ingested bath salts is MDPV.
Cathinone is present in the khat plant which is native to the area around the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Cathinone is a psychoactive substance, meaning that it is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and affect the central nervous system. The synthetic variants are intended to replicate these same effects. The synthetic versions are felt to be even more potent than the naturally-occurring substance. The chemical make-up of the variants is also quite similar to that of amphetamines and methamphetamines.
MDPV has been known to increase the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a hormone that controls several brain functions such as voluntary movement, attention and learning, among others. The use of cocaine achieves the same effect on the brain but it is believed that MDPV’s effect is ten times stronger or even higher. They are highly addictive and are more likely than not to be abused.
Bath salts, the recreational drug, can easily be confused for the salts that are used during bathing. In fact, the drugs are often marketed in packaging that gives the illusion that they are bathing salts in order to avoid detection by authorities. Bathing salts, such as Epsom salt, look like very tiny, whitish, powdery particles and are usually sold in small transparent pouches. The creators of ‘bath salts’ drugs mimic this appearance. Bath salts drugs are difficult to tell apart from bathing salts because of this similarity in appearance. Bath salts may also be available as a tablet or capsule. Sometimes the drugs are also advertised as jewelry or phone screen cleaners or as plant food, making detection even more challenging.
Bath salts are widely available online from seemingly legitimate online retailers, at gas stations, on the street, at corner shops, in so-called drug stores or head shops and many other unknown locations. It is difficult to determine their range of distribution because of the similarity with bathing salts. Drug dealers may sell bath salts to unsuspecting users under the guise of other drugs such as ecstasy.
There are many brands and varieties of bath salts on the market. As the specific ingredients for bath salts are unknown, drug makers may come up with their own variety. Among the many names by which bath salts are referred are: Bliss, Bloom, Blue Silk, Cloud Nine, Drone, Energy-1, Ivory Wave, Lightening, Lunar Wave, Meow Meow, Ocean Burst, Pure Ivory, Purple, Red Dove, Scarface, Snow Leopard, Stardust, Vanilla Sky, Wave, White, White Dove, White Knight and White Lightning.
Method of use
Bath salts are usually swallowed, snorted through the nose or injected directly through the veins. The last two methods are believed to be the most dangerous as more patients have reported to emergency rooms from ingesting bath salts using those methods.
There are many possible negative effects from ingesting bath salts. Because the precise chemical content of bath salts is not known, the risks for users who attempt to get a bath salt high is even greater as doctors are not easily able to determine the best method of treatment due to their lack of adequate information on the substance ingested. One of the most serious negative effects noted in bath salt users is the onset of hallucinations. Bath salts behave in a similar manner to other hard drugs such as methamphetamines and LSD. The hallucinations are brought on when the levels of neurotransmitters are chemically elevated.
Another serious effect is a feeling of euphoria, where users feel overly excited or happy. This effect is caused by the increase in dopamine in the brain brought on by bath salt high. Other psychotic symptoms include agitation, paranoia, thoughts of suicide, strange, erratic, unpredictable and violent behavior, heightened anger and panic attacks. Users on a bath salt high may also become more sociable and have an increased sex drive.
Physical symptoms include an increase in blood pressure, elevated heart rate and the development of seizures and chest pains. The conditions may even result in death. Users of other hard drugs are at an increased risk as some drug dealers have substituted methamphetamines for the artificial cathinones.
Bath salt overdose is a challenge to treat because of their varied makeup and the fact that it is very difficult to detect the presence of bath salts using routine drug screens. Once bath salt overdose is suspected the most immediate form of treatment is to administer sedatives. The sedative helps to control the erratic physical symptoms. Antipsychotics are administered to treat the psychotic symptoms. A form of benzodiazepine, such as lorazepam, commonly used to treat agitation and seizures, is usually administered to counteract the drug. Other methods of treatment will depend on the precise physical symptoms that the user displays. Psychotherapy or other psychological treatment is also recommended to help patients combat their substance abuse.