Information about Bath Salts:

  • Bath salts begin emerging as a dangerous, yet faddish trend, during the late 1990’s.  They were initially referred to as “legal highs”, until many of the chemicals became banned.  Part of the drugs popularity, as an alternative to the “real stuff”, was due to the fact that it was undetectable by drug tests.  This was like a dream come true for people who wanted to get “high”, yet were subject to mandatory drug testing.  Additionally, the drug became popular with young people because it was so easy to obtain.  A person could walk into many convenience stores, and head shops, and buy it right off the shelf.  While today many people have become aware of the dangers of bath salts, unfortunately, the drug is still available and continues to damage people’s lives.

bath_salts

  • These drugs are usually ingested orally, snorted (inhaled through the nose), or taken by IV injection. The worst outcomes seem to be associated with inhalation or intravenous administration (Volkow, 2011).
  • When a person ingests “bath salts”, the wide range of effects can encompass anything from having almost no reaction at all, to mild delirium or even full blown psychosis.  There is really no way to know how the drug will affect each individual, mainly because the chemical makeup of the drug is undisclosed, and varies considerably, depending on the brand of the product.  Even different batches, of the same brand, can vary significantly.
  • It can be a very scary scene to witness a person on these drugs.  While the drug certainly can affect individuals differently, people who have taken this drug have often been described as having “superhuman strength”, acting like “wild animals”, or as if they are “possessed”.  Experts refer to the phenomena as “excited delirium”.

 

  • Individuals who have personally lived through these episodes, recurrently describe the experience as being “sinister”, “dark”, or “evil”.  Some previous users have even dubbed the drug as “the gateway to hell”.
  • I have posted links to news videos (at the bottom of this article) that share insight from the perspective of those who’ve had first hand experience with people who have used the drug, for example, law enforcement and emergency room personnel.  The videos also include interviews with people who have personally used the drug, and can share about the effects from their point of view.  Additionally, the images show disturbing, yet real life, coverage of people who are experiencing the negative effects of these drugs.  The first hand knowledge these people have bravely shared should be enough to deter anyone from taking these hideous drugs.

bath salts

  • Bath Salts contain a mixture of psychoactive and powerful stimulants, called synthetic cathinones. The most common of these synthetic chemicals, (methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MPDV), mephedrone and pyrovalerone), have been banned, either by the United States federal government, or individual state legislation.  Unfortunately, the drug’s manufacturers continue to alter the compounds in their products, in an attempt to circumvent the laws put in place to protect the public.  In addition, these drugs are still sold illicitly, like many other illegal drugs. The drugs are still available online, mainly from overseas vendors.  To top it off, the products are generally labeled “not for human consumption”, and sold with obscure names such as “bath salts”, “plant food”, “jewelry cleaner”, and others, to bypass FDA regulations (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016).
  • What the illegitimate drug manufacturers are doing is very risky.  Tinkering with molecules can create a deadly chemical, and no testing is done by the manufacturers to determine if these drugs are even safe for human consumption. Furthermore, no testing is done to determine what dose is safe to take, how much will cause an overdose, or if the product could interact with certain medications, or medical conditions, in an adverse way.  Taking “bath salts”, or any of the synthetic type drugs, seems to be a bit like playing Russian roulette, put the wrong chemical in your body and it can be deadly.

 

  • Legitimate pharmaceutical companies, spend years putting new drugs/medications through rigorous tests and trials, to do everything possible to make sure new drugs are as safe as possible.  Furthermore, the pharmaceutical companies learn the side effects, safe dosage, possible drug interactions, and more, about a drug before it is ever put on the market. Even after being put on the market, the drug is monitored closely for several years, to keep track of any adverse reactions, or other problems, that may turn up.
  • People often feel a false sense of safety if something can be purchased off a shelf in a store, or even through an internet website that looks legit.  There is a faulty belief that these products must have been tested for safety, if companies can get away with selling them on a store shelf, versus a back alley or street corner.  This is an erroneous myth, the truth is that bath salts are not tested for safety, and there is no way of knowing what is actually in the package.
  • Dr. Barry Logan, one of the nation’s leading toxicologists, described the problem like this: “Bath salts are hard to track.  There are hundreds of bath salt compounds out there, but toxicologists can only test for 40.  This is always a moving target, as soon as a test exists for something, there are new compounds waiting in the wings. We are always a step behind” (Bryan, 2012).
  • Dr. Bruce Goldberger, the director of toxicology at the University of Florida, also commented on the fast evolving nature of these products, “We are not incompetent. We have the tools, we have the sophistication and know-how.  But the field is evolving so rapidly it is hard for us to keep track.  It’s almost as if it is a race we can never win” (Bryan, 2012).
  • Epidemiologist Jim Hall effectively summarizes the message: “These are the guinea pig drugs of 2012, and the near future.  The people using these drugs are risking their lives, their minds, and their kidneys. Some of these people have had to be put on dialysis for the rest of their lives or worse” (Bryan, 2012).  Many individuals who have tempted fate with these drugs now have permanent brain injury, some are now in the criminal justice system for their actions while “high”, and some have tragically lost their lives.

Copycat drugs comparable to Bath Salts:

  • A copycat “bath salt” type drug, referred to as flakka or gravel, has more recently been spreading across the state of Florida like wildfire.  This newer drug looks like little white, crystallized rocks, similar to the “gravel” one might use to decorate a fish tank.  However, the drug is not even close to anything pretty.
  • The potential for overdose with this drug is extremely high.  Jim Hall, an esteemed drug abuse epidemiologist at Nova University, indicates that “Just a little bit of difference in how much is consumed can be the difference between getting high and dying. It’s that critical” (Storrs, 2015).
  • The drug has been compared to cocaine, but is much more potent and deadly.  A recent study found that MDPV, a common chemical found in these synthetic drugs, affects the brain in a manner similar to cocaine, but is at least 10 times more powerful (Baumann et al., 2013).
  • Flakka can be smoked, snorted, or injected. A small dose can lead to acute and critical symptoms such as: deadly increases in body temperature, severely increased heart rate, and intense paranoia combined with violent behavior.  Epidemiologist Jim Hall goes on to say, “Probably what has brought flakka the most attention is that it gives users what feels like the strength and fury of the Incredible Hulk” (Storrs, 2015).  In fact, some toxicologists have gone so far as to say that these forged drugs are by far more dangerous, than plain old-fashioned “tried & true” cocaine.  I am not suggesting that anyone start using cocaine.  It is just amazing to me that there is a drug that is so dangerous, that toxicologists would basically say “please, if you must use something, use the real stuff instead”.  The synthetic drugs really are that dangerous!  What’s even more baffling is that people are still using them.
  • An Associated Press (AP) article discusses the fast rising increases in the use of flakka, since the drug entered the Florida drug scene in 2003, and it’s astonishing. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime labs said submissions for testing suspected flakka drug seizures was at only 38 submissions in 2013.  By 2014, the number of flakka submissions grew to a staggering 228.  Even more alarming, is the fact that flakka submissions were already at 275 submissions, in just the first three months of the next year, in 2015.
  • The online availability of flakka, and other synthetic drugs, is rampant and nearly impossible to stop. This type of “point and click” drug trafficking is making it difficult for law enforcement to intercept the flow of these drugs. Websites, mainly overseas, offer a wide selection of illegal narcotics for buyers that provide easy access to a huge selection of illegal drugs. For example, law enforcement authorities found more than 150 Chinese companies selling the synthetic drug “Flakka” (Florida Department of Health, 2015).
  •  The synthetic “highs” (spice, bath salts, and synthetic forms of ecstasy) are also now available in the form of e liquids, sold for use in the popular electronic vaping devices.  A new danger that young people and parents must be aware of due to the popularity of e cigarettes and electronic vaping devices. To read more information regarding the dangers of vaping these drugs, often referred to as “liquid incense” or “herbal incense”  CLICK HERE (Link to Article ~ Dangerous New Trend).

liquid-herbal-incense

  • The drug, originally known as “bath salts”, continues to resurface in new and slightly altered forms. The cleverly disguised marketing, changing names, and new formulations require daily investigation to stay current.  Despite the dangers, these drugs do not seem to be going away anytime soon.  If you have information about a new drug, please share in the comments section at the end of the article.  Additionally, if any of the information in this article needs corrections, please don’t hesitate to point that out as well.  The goal here is to provide the most up to date information possible, to help prevent others from going through what could be a life changing, or deadly event, related to the use of these drugs.

How do Bath Salts work in the body:

  • To understand how drugs work in our body, we need to know a little bit about brain chemistry.  Very simply put, our brains contain billions of tiny little nerve cells, called neurons.  Neurons have one main job, which is to communicate with each other.  Our brains also contain chemicals called neurotransmitters.  The neurotransmitters can be thought of as “messengers”, that travel back and forth between the brain’s nerve cells, to facilitate the communication between the neurons.
  • There are several types of neurotransmitters, but the main thing we need to know is that:
    • Some neurotransmitters (messengers) cause excitement, or stimulation, in the brains nerve cells.
    • Some neurotransmitters (messengers) cause inhibition, or depression, in the brains nerve cells.

excitatory and inhibitory cartoon

  • The stimulant type drugs, such as bath salts, cause stimulation in the central nervous system.  Our central nervous system consists of our brain and spinal cord.  Other stimulant drugs include cocaine, methamphetamines, amphetamines, and others. When the nerves in the brain are stimulated this causes feelings of energy and alertness.
  • On the other hand, the inhibitory drugs cause feelings of sleepiness and a sense of calmness.  A good example of a depressive/inhibitory type drug would be something like a Xanax. Additional inhibitory drugs include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, narcotic pain medications, and even alcohol.
  • The chemicals in bath salts, the synthetic cathinones, act in the brain similarly to other stimulant drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamines, but with more pronounced effects.  The synthetic cathinones produce effects comparable to taking a combination of methamphetamine and cocaine together, at the same time.  This can make the drug extremely powerful! The ultimate reaction is dependent on which chemicals are used, and the amount of each chemical that is in the product.  But again, when a package of the product is purchased, there is no way of knowing which chemicals, and how much of each chemical, is in the package.

Nerve Cells with  Receptors

  • In the picture (above) you can see one nerve cell (neuron), releasing little vesicles filled with neurotransmitters into the gap between the nerve cells.  This little gap is called the synapse.  On the other nerve cell, you can see the receptors.  The neurotransmitters attach to these receptors, this is how they send a message which in turn normally causes the desired changes in the receiving nerve cell.  Remember, the changes can be excitatory changes, or inhibitory changes.
  • The main neurotransmitter involved when a person uses stimulant type drugs is called dopamine.  Dopamine is one of our brains natural “feel good” chemicals.

dopamine happy face

  • When the nerve cell no longer needs the neurotransmitters, they are released from the receptor back into the synapse.  When the neurotransmitters have done their job and are released back into the synapse, they are either destroyed by an enzyme, or returned back to the first nerve cell that released them.  When the nerve cell that released the neurotransmitters  re takes up the neurotransmitters back into the nerve cell, this is called re-uptake.  If this re-uptake process didn’t occur, than there would be too much of the neurotransmitter in the synapse (gap) that would continue to, excessively, stimulate the receiving nerve cell.  This is the basic action of most stimulant drugs, the excessive stimulation from the “feel good” neurotransmitter, dopamine, causes the euphoria drug users are seeking.
toomuchandtoolittleneurotransmitters
While using stimulant type drugs, dopamine builds up in the synapse (gap), so there is basically an “overload” of this feel good chemical (dopamine).  After using these drugs there is less dopamine available, and fewer receptors for dopamine to attach to.  This makes it hard for a person to feel happy “normally” without the extra stimulation of artificial stimulants, leading to addiction.  The person now “needs” the drug just to feel “normal.
  • Cocaine works by affecting the re-uptake of dopamine in the brain. Remember, re-uptake is a process that normally occurs, when the dopamine has performed it’s function, some of the dopamine get’s returned (re-uptake) to the nerve cell that released it.  When cocaine is used, the re-uptake process is inhibited, so instead of the dopamine being returned to the original cell, it continues to act over and over again on the receiving cell, causing continued stimulation, or excitement of that cell.
  • Methamphetamines also increase the amount of dopamine in the synapse.  However, instead of inhibiting the re-uptake of dopamine, methamphetamines cause too much dopamine to be released from the nerve cells, at one time.  This causes an overload of dopamine, and excessive stimulation, of the nerve cells that in turn cause excitation of the central nervous system.
  • Remember we said that the synthetic cathinones in bath salts are like taking cocaine and methamphetamines at the same time.  This is because bath salts cause both mechanisms to occur (inhibited re-uptake and releasing to much dopamine). The end result is a seriously high increase in the amount of dopamine, available for use in the brain, to dangerous levels.  The combination of the two actions, found in the use of synthetic cathinones, can cause an overload of dopamine in the brain at levels high enough to induce psychosis.
  • The psychosis seen with these drugs is similar to the psychosis seen in schizophrenia, (auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia, fear that others are out to get them and cause them harm, etc…).  Schizophrenia is a mental illness that is also related to overproduction of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
  • Doctors and clinicians at U.S. poison control centers have indicated that “bath salts” can also cause serious physical complications such as chest pains, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, heart attack, deadly hyperthermia (increased body temperature), severe agitation, self-harm, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, kidney damage, liver damage, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, nightmares, insomnia, delusions, severe kidney damage, depression, brain stem herniation (from increased pressure in the skull), and death.  These synthetic stimulants have been linked to thousands of ER visits and poison control center calls (National Institute of Health, 2011).
  • Nora Volkow, M.D., the directer of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reports that these drugs have a high potential for abuse and addiction.  Clinical reports indicate these products can trigger intense cravings, similar to those experienced by user’s of methamphetamine.  Additionally, they also confer a high risk for other medical adverse effects. These risks may be linked to the fact that, beyond their known psychoactive ingredients, the contents of “bath salts” are largely unknown, which makes the practice of abusing them, by any route, that much more dangerous (NIH, 2011).
  • Dr. Volkow goes on to add, “I would like to urge parents, teachers, and the public at large to be aware of the dangers associated with the use of these drugs and to exercise a judicious level of vigilance that will help us deal with this problem most effectively” (NIH, 2011).

Articles Related to effects of Bath Salts:

There are hundreds of news articles that described the terrible aftermath that can occur with the use of these drugs.  These are just a few examples of what can go wrong when a person decides to use bath salts:

Videos Related to Bath Salts

Resources for Help:

If you, or a loved one, is struggling with drug addiction, please reach out for help.

  • Synthetic Drugs Addiction Helpline: 1 (888) 645 3912
  • Suicide Helpline: 1 (800) 784 2433
  • Drug or Alcohol Treatment: 1 (800) 662 HELP
  • Intervention Resource Center: 1 (888) 421 4321
  • Alcohol and Drugs Helpline: 1 (800) 821 4357
  • Teen Helpline: 1.800.400.0900
  • Adolescent Crisis Intervention 9 Line: 1.800.999.9999
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “START” TO 741-741
  • More Helplines & Crisis Hotlines

 

References

Bryan, S. (2012). Even experts question claim that Rudy Eugene was not on bath salts.  (July 6th, 2012). Sun Sentinel.  Retrieved from http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-07-06/news/fl-bath-salts-tests-20120706_1_bath-salts-synthetic-marijuana-clandestine-labs

Baumann MH, Partilla JS, Lehner KR, et al. Powerful cocaine-like actions of 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a principal constituent of psychoactive ‘bath salts’ products. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013;38(4):552-562.

Florida Department of Health. (2015).  Statewide drug policy advisory council: 2015 annual report.  Retrieved from http://www.floridahealth.gov/provider-and-partner-resources/dpac/DPAC-Annual-Report-2015-Final-RA1.pdf

National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDH]. (2016).  Synthetic cathinones: Bath salts. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cathinones-bath-salts

Storrs, C. (2015).  What is flakka and why is it more dangerous than cocaine? Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/26/health/flakka-gravel-illegal-drugs/index.html

Volkow, N. (2011). “Bath Salts”: Emerging and dangerous product.  National Institute of Health [NIH]. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/directors-page/messages-director/2011/02/bath-salts-emerging-dangerous-products

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