What Are Bath Salts (Synthetic Cathinones)?
Bath Salts are a category of manmade, synthetic drugs with stimulant-like effects. The term “bath salts” doesn’t apply to just one, specific drug, but rather a number of substances that are chemically similar. The drug became popular among teens and club-goers after 2010, yet recent surveys show less than 1% of teens today tried them in the past year.
In 2012, calls about bath salts to poison control centers peaked with 2,697 and declined each year after that.
The recent decline in the prevalence of bath salt abuse is perhaps due to the media shocking the nation with coverage of individuals who were high on bath salts having psychotic breaks, eating the faces of live humans, and suffering other negative consequences. It may also be due to Operation Log Jam, which was initiated by the government in 2012. In total, 109 cities were raided, 91 people were arrested, and 167,000 bags of bath salts were seized.
Bath salts are also commonly referred to as synthetic cathinones because of their similarity to natural cathinone, derived from the khat plant. The khat plant is a shrub native to East Africa and southern parts of the Middle East; chewing its leaves produces feelings of euphoria and mild amphetamine-like effects.
Synthetic cathinones–though nicknamed bath salts–have no relation to Epsom salts used to relax muscles in the bath tub. Instead, the drugs’ street name comes from its appearance: white or brown crystalline rocks or powder. A variety of chemicals commonly used to make these drugs are illegal, Schedule I substances (such as 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone [MDPV]; mephedrone [also known as drone, meph, and meow meow]; and methylone). Yet, drug manufacturers often subvert regulation and are able to sell bath salts in gas stations and smoke shops by making slight alterations to chemical formulas or by labeling their products as “Not for Human Consumption.” Typically, these drugs are either swallowed, snorted, smoked, or injected.
Bath Salts are abused as they have similar chemical structures to commonly abused stimulants, such as cocaine or meth. Some also have similarities to hallucinogens, such as Ecstasy Over forty states have banned commonly abused synthetic Cathinones. Once a particular substance is banned, drug producers often create an analogue, or similar chemical, of the drug to continue manufacturing the synthetic drug without breaking the law.
Bath salts are often sold in smoke shops and gas stations with labels such as “plant food,” “jewelry cleaner,” and “phone screen cleaner.”
Street names for Bath Salts include:
- Cloud Nine
- Ivory Wave
- Lunar Wave
- Vanilla Sky
- White Lightning
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What Are the Physical and Mental Effects of Bath Salts?
Bath salts belong to the category of drugs known as stimulants, as well as a group of drugs termed the “new psychoactive substances” (NPS). Because bath salts encompass multiple types of chemical combinations, little research has been done about their range of physical and mental effects. They do, however, share chemical similarities with cocaine, amphetamines, and MDMA (ecstasy). One study showed bath salts can be at least ten times more powerful than cocaine.
Taking these drugs can result in feelings of:
- Clouded thinking
- Increased heart rate
- Intense nausea
- Reduced motor control
For some people, the mental effects of bath salts can be more dangerous due to their potential to cause unintended injury. They may include:
- Excited delirium
- Increased sociability
- Increased sex drive
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts
- Violent behavior
Because it’s impossible to know what’s in each batch of these drugs without sending them to a laboratory for testing, the risk of overdose and even death can be high.
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Can You Become Addicted to Bath Salts?
As a new psychoactive substance, little is known about the full, addictive potential of bath salts. However, studies of rats have shown that animals will self-administer synthetic cathinones, indicating a compulsion to use the drug again and again. Some people who have developed a dependency on bath salts have also reported withdrawal symptoms (such as depression, anxiety, tremors, insomnia, and paranoia) when they stopped taking the drugs.
Use of these drugs does result in a response by the brain’s dopamine reward system–responsible for the development of addiction over time. Teens and young adults may be more likely to abuse and become addicted to synthetic cathinones after repeated use.
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Get Help for a Bath Salts Addiction
Treatment for a bath salts addiction is similar to other substance use disorders. Rehab centers typically employ behavioral therapy techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational motivational enhancement therapy, and contingency management.
If you’d like information about recovery options, talk to a treatment provider today.