Synthetic cathinones, which are more commonly known as “bath salts,” are human-made stimulants related to cathinone. They are a type of designer drugs has similar chemical structures to stimulant drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine. As dangerous as the drugs are, they remain technically legal. Synthetic drugs are in what’s called a gray area of the law. Anytime a specific chemical structure is banned, chemists tweak the chemical makeup slightly to avoid breaking the law.
This is what makes bath salts more dangerous than the other substances we know about. While the structures continually change, the user is always experimenting with something different each time they use. You will never be certain of the exact substance you are consuming because of these constant changes.
Bath salts are routinely sold in head shops, gas stations, smoke shops, and on the internet. It cannot be marketed or sold as a drug as it would require approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so manufacturers market them as incense, bath salts, jewelry cleaner, and plant food.
All the labels contain the words “not for human consumption” as a way to get around the law. Even a tiny tweak in the chemical structure of a designer drug can have a major effect on the user. Those who have abused the drug reported a long list of adverse side effects. These can cause lasting damage to the brain and even cause death.
How do Bath Salts Work?
The chemical makeup of bath salts is identified as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). This works as you’d expect with amphetamines by raising the body’s alertness, energy, euphoria, and pleasure. The drug also increases the production of dopamine, serotonin, and norephedrine.
Like other stimulants, MDPV does this through a process of inhibiting reuptake. Reuptake happens when the brain reabsorbs neurotransmitters like dopamine when they are no longer required so they can be available for future use. MDPV blocks this process from occurring and allows the chemicals to build up and remain in the brain. This contributes to their powerful, long-lasting effects.
What are the Signs of Bath Salts Addiction?
It is often difficult to spot an addiction that is in the early stages. Outward signs become more evident when the user has stumbled far into their addiction. Bath salts, however, cause erratic and peculiar behavior that causes the user to become aggressive. This type of behavior can be spotted even in the early stages of addiction. There are other side effects associated with bath salts that can indicate a user is becoming addicted. These include:
- Suicidal behavior
- Frequent headaches
- Periods of hyperactivity
- Rapid weight loss due to anorexia or malnutrition
- Kidney and liver problems
- Spasms and muscle breakdown
Once the line has been crossed from recreational use to addiction, it means the user will have lost all ability to control themselves. Use will become compulsive, and their lives will revolve around getting the drugs. The behavior of the person will become increasingly abnormal. This is a result of the substance and how addiction rewires the brain.
When a user is overwhelmed by addiction, the driving force behind their actions will be to obtain the substance. Their decisions will all be predicated on using, and this will affect their priorities such as relationships, families, work, or school. Common signs of bath salts addiction include:
- Constant craving for bath salts
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using bath salts
- Increased tolerance to the effects of bath salts
- Hiding or lying about bath salt use
- Neglect of hygiene and personal appearance
- Stealing money or other valuables to pay for bath salts
- Inability to feel normal without bath salts
- Failing to quit bath salts despite multiple attempts
If you suspect that either you or a loved one has become addicted to bath salts, get help immediately. Bath salts are unpredictable, and like any disease, early detection is key. Professional addiction treatment can be the difference between life and death.
What is Involved in Bath Salts Addiction Treatment?
Admitting that you have a problem can be difficult, but by doing so, you have taken the first step to a better life. During the treatment process, medical detox is the first stage that addiction recovery professionals recommend. Detox is designed to safely remove addictive substances and toxins from your system. There is no way of determining the standard dose of bath salts, so removing every last particle from your system is a top priority.
Detox is never a situation an individual should manage on their own with any drug. Bath salts should be processed out of your system under the care of medical professionals. People with bath salt intoxication can exhibit wild and violent behavior that makes them dangerous to themselves and everyone around them. This is a process that must take place under strict supervision.
Bath salts withdrawals can be severe, but not knowing which chemical someone is detoxing from can make the process extremely unpredictable. Some people in withdrawal may experience nothing while another person can experience anxiety, depression, hallucinations, or psychosis. For these reasons, addiction specialists strongly urge the user to seek professional medical care.
After detox is completed, the next step is to move into an addiction rehabilitation program. During this stage, a client will undergo various therapies and treatments that are designed to help them better understand their underlying issues. These will help delve deep into their souls and help them understand the cause of their drug use. This will allow them to manage their addictions effectively moving forward.
Where the client is placed will depend on the severity of their addiction and how long they’ve been using. Those with a severe addiction will be placed in a residential treatment center where they will have 24-hour supervision. Inpatient treatment is the most useful for those with a long history of substance use.
Someone who hasn’t been using for very long and has a safe home environment would likely be placed in an outpatient setting. They will still attend the same therapies as someone living on-site but will have the freedom to go home once therapy finishes.
No matter where they are placed, they will work with a clinician or therapist who will create a treatment plan. This will be tailored to their unique requirements. Common therapies and treatments to expect are:
- Holistic therapy
- Behavioral therapy
- Trauma therapy
- Group counseling
- Addiction education
- Stress management
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Relapse prevention planning
How Dangerous are Bath Salts?
All drugs are inherently dangerous, but bath salts pose a different risk. The chemical structures are being altered so frequently that the high you enjoyed one minute could become a nightmare the next. The only thing we know for sure is that cathinones work similarly to stimulants. There is no way to accurately predict the dosage or how it will affect someone.
Someone using bath salts does not have to be addicted to put themselves in danger. It could be the first time they try bath salts that an adverse effect occurs. A teen in Ohio can attest to those dangers after accidentally ingesting bath salts that almost killed him. His behavior was described as “out of this world.” Some side effects of bath salts include:
- Paranoia and delusions
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pains
- Auditory and visual hallucinations
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal behavior
There are so many uncertain factors that make taking bath salts once a bad idea. The emergence of different bath salts is a tireless prospect to those trying to fight these dangerous drugs. The more that are released will yield more and more stories about deaths and individuals turning into zombies.
Bath Salt Abuse Statistics
- Bath salts are most commonly consumed by users between the ages of 20 and 29.
- According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, between 2010 and 2011, calls to poison control involving bath salts rose from just more than 300 to more than 6,000.
- Bath salts led to 23,000 emergency room visits in 2011.