Bath salts are composed of amphetamine-like synthetic compounds called cathinones. Synthetic cathinone is derived from a natural stimulant found in the khat plant. The cathinone chemicals in bath salts are similar in make-up and activity to methamphetamine and MDMA. These synthetic cathinones called bath salts and other street names work to create euphoric feelings, increase sociability and raise libido levels for enhanced sex drives.
Bath salts are formulated as a crystalline powder, colored white or brown. They are marketed in plastic or foil packets labeled “not for human consumption” to help avert the authorities. The manmade cathinones in bath salts are usually methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), methylone or mephedrone, though chemical makeup of these drugs can differ widely. They are labeled not just as bath salts, but also as jewelry cleaners and cell phone screen cleaners.
Bath salts are known by other street names:
- Cosmic Blast
- Ivory Wave
- Cloud Nine
- Lunar Wave
- Vanilla Sky
- White Lightening
In the United State, bath salts are categorized as Class 1 drugs. These drugs are illegal, recreational drugs that act as stimulants and, at times, hallucinogens. Class 1 or Schedule 1 drugs have a strong potential for abuse. They are not medically prescribed and are considered to be unsafe. Other Class 1 drugs include heroin, LSD and cocaine.
History and Trends
Synthetic substances similar to cathinone were first developed in the 1920s, then abandoned. Illegal drug-makers rediscovered cathinone in the 2000’s when they appeared as designer drugs. Bath salts were not yet illegal at that point in time. As abuse of cathinone synthetics rose in 2010, bath salts came to the attention of United States poison centers. Up until then, these drugs were sold in gas stations and “head” shops and soon began to be available over the Internet.
Bath salts are ingested via swallowing, smoking, snorting, by injection or rectally. Injecting these synthetic drugs is very dangerous, because it is not known what exactly that particular drug may be made up of, or what the dosage may be.
Effects and Symptoms
Bath salts give users a ‘rush’ that is similar to the high achieved with methamphetamine. The risk for overdosing is high because the packages sold can range wildly in their dosage, some containing up to 500 milligrams, others as low as 3 milligrams. When taken by mouth, bath salts are absorbed quickly, with the effects lasting upwards of 8 hours, including a rush of euphoric feelings leading to a “hard crash” of coming down from the drug.
There are many possible side effects and complications associated with the ingestion of cathinone substances. Even at the lowest doses, bath salts can cause the following physical symptoms:
- Increases in heart rate
- Dilated pupils
- Increased blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Liver failure
- Heart attack
- Hyperthermia (high fever)
On an emotional and psychological level, abuse of bath salts can cause:
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts
- Self-mutilation such as cutting
- Thoughts or actions of violence against others
Abuse & Addiction
Bath salts addiction or abuse often cannot be detected in someone with absolute certainty. A health professional must take a complete medical history and perform a physical examination in addition to lab tests to determine a person’s general health, including mental health symptoms. A person who is abusing this drug often manifests warning signs such as not being able to meet their work, school or home obligations, having recurrent legal problems, and, as a result of drug use, having social and relationship problems.
Someone who is addicted to using bath salts has developed a tolerance for the drug’s effects and needs ever-increasing dosages to maintain their high. They have a continuous desire to take the drug and cannot control their longings. A huge amount of the person’s life is spent obtaining the drugs, using them, and then recovering from their effects. These drugs have a high potential for addiction and abuse, as they trigger intense cravings and urges to use the drug again.
When someone who has been abusing bath salts either attempts to detox or is without the drug for an extended period, withdrawal symptoms will kick in. The longer the person has been using the drug, the more intense the withdrawal symptoms are. Some detoxification programs enable the patient to slowly withdraw from the drug, tapering off until usage is down to nothing. Some symptoms associated with withdrawal from bath salts include:
- Heightened cravings for the drug
- Depressive feelings
- Lessened ability to concentrate
- Decreased memory
- Memory loss
- Nasal congestion
- Violent feelings or behavior
- Sleep that lasts but is of poor quality
Treatment for detox from bath salts includes spending upwards of 120 days in a rehab center, after which a less-restrictive care program can be found. Individualized treatment is essential to a successful recovery program, as needs vary from person to person. Physical and mental health must be addressed, as well as cultural concerns.