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Abuse of Synthetic Cathinones: Guide to Symptoms & More

Synthetic cathinones are often called bath salts, but they have nothing to do with relaxing in the tub. These are man-made stimulant drugs, and they are designed to deliver a high lasting four to five hours.

There are plenty of abuse signals to look for when you think someone is abusing synthetic cathinones, including:

  • The drug itself. When you know what the substance looks like, you may be able to spot it in your home.
  • Typical synthetic cathinones users. The drug appeals to people looking for a cheap high from a substance that won’t appear on a drug screening test. That characteristic appeals to a specific type of person, and you may recognize characteristics in the person you love.
  • Signs of intoxication. A bath salt high produces symptoms you can spot quickly
  • Overdose symptoms. Taking too much can make the person you love very ill. An emergency room might be the best place to get help
  • General addiction signs. Abuse of almost any drug can prompt changes in behavior and appearance.

When you’ve identified troubling drug abuse signals, it’s time to start a conversation. You can be part of the solution.

What Do Synthetic Cathinones Look Like?

These drugs don’t come from plants. They are made in laboratories, packaged for sale, and delivered to users in foil packets.

Packets might be stamped with the words “not for human consumption,” and they might be called bath salts, jewelry cleaner, or plant food. They might also be tagged with a brand name, such as:

  • Ivory Coast
  • Purple Wave
  • Vanilla Sky
  • Meow Meow
  • Snow
  • Energy1
  • Wildcat

Packets are typically small, colorful, and bright. If you open one, you’ll find white or brown crystals. This substance is usually sniffed or snorted, so it is chopped up into a fine powder.

It’s not safe to sniff the substance to check for an odor. But if you did, you’d discover that there’s no scent associated with this product at all.

Bath salts are inexpensive, and people with a habit need to keep taking the drug to maintain a high. Someone dependent on the synthetic cathinones might stash large quantities away, so there is always enough available for use.

You might see the drug on countertops or coffee tables. You might find it hidden in sock drawers, cabinets, tins, or boxes.

Who Uses These Drugs?

Synthetic cathinones deliver a powerful high, and according to the Drug Policy Alliance, they don’t show up on routine drug screening tests. That can make bath salts appealing to people in careers demanding regular and clean drug screenings. That group includes:

  • Professional athletes
  • Military personnel
  • People on parole for drug use
  • Those in treatment for substance abuse

People like this can risk their careers, their freedom, or both if they fail a drug test. By using bath salts, they hope to cheat the system while getting the high their bodies crave.

Bath salts are also inexpensive when compared to other stimulants. Powdered cocaine can cost hundreds of dollars per hit, and people must visit dealers to get it. Bath salts are sold for a fraction of that price, and in some states, these products are available in head shops and gas stations. Cash-conscious people are at risk for this type of drug abuse as a result.

Drug dealers are also aware that synthetic cathinones are inexpensive. As a result, they substitute expensive ingredients (like MDMA) for bath salts, and they sell these altered products to unaware consumers. Some people who take bath salts have no idea what they’re taking. They may believe they’re taking ecstasy when they’re actually ingesting bath salts.

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For that reason, it’s not safe to assume the person you love isn’t taking bath salts if you don’t find packets lying around. You’ll also need to look for symptoms of intoxication.

Spot the Signs of Intoxication 

A dose of bath salts takes effect quickly. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation says an oral dose takes hold within about 15 to 45 minutes, and the symptoms last for two to four hours.

If you’ve read news reports about bath salts, you might assume everyone who takes these drugs becomes violent, aggressive, and psychotic. While some people do experience these symptoms, many do not. Just because someone isn’t threatening to kill you doesn’t mean that person isn’t taking bath salts.

The following are common symptoms of intoxication from synthetic cathinones:

  • Euphoria
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperactivity or restlessness
  • Sociability
  • Paranoia
  • Dizziness
  • Large pupils and blurred vision
  • Sweating
  • Reduced appetite

Bath salts cause brain cell changes, and when the drug wears off, those altered cells can call out for another dose. Someone who plans to take the substance just once can get trapped in a cycle of repeated doses. The person you love may seem intoxicated for days as a result. They might also take too much, and that can lead to an overdose. 

Overdose Symptoms to Look For

When taken in large doses, synthetic cathinones can interfere with the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system. That can lead to severe health issues.

  • Nosebleeds
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Hot flashes
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Seizures

These symptoms are common in people repeating doses of bath salts. They may take another hit before the first has worn off. But some people overdose while taking a hit they consider small.

Bath salts aren’t considered medications, so public health officials don’t regulate their manufacture. Dealers aren’t required to test their products for strength or purity. They can make their drug as strong as they’d like to.

In addition, these drugs are often marked with a “not for human consumption” label. Packets often have no dosing information at all. Users might take a whole packet when only a quarter or half of the contents would be a better choice.

People who take synthetic cathinones can overdose very quickly even if they’re not taking repeated doses.

Someone in the midst of an overdose should go to the hospital. According to Medscape, about 26 percent of people who go to the hospital for synthetic cathinones get admitted to the intensive care unit.

While in the hospital, doctors can use blood, urine, or hair drug screening tests to check for bath salts. Some families find out about a drug abuse problem when the results come back from the laboratory. That’s hard proof they can use to convince the person to get help.

General Addiction Symptoms to Look For 

What can you do when you don’t spot the drug in your home, and you have no way to prove that the person you love is taking bath salts? You can look for generic addiction signs and symptoms. Substances of abuse cause changes in the way people behave and some of those signs are hard to overlook.

Behavior changes you might see include:

  • Increasing isolation. Opting out of family gatherings, office parties, or friendly get-togethers is common.
  • Shifting priorities. Bath salts become the most important things in a person’s life. Family responsibilities, work, or school can all fall by the wayside.
  • New contacts. Dealers and other drug users can become important peers that keep an addiction alive
  • Dangerous habits. Driving while intoxicated or taking unusual physical risks (like fighting) could be a sign of abuse
  • Continued use. Some people who use drugs admit that they’ve done so. They may even acknowledge that they want to stop. But they may be unable to make that resolution stick.
  • Changing appearance. Weight loss is common with stimulant use. The person might also stop bathing or grow less concerned with clothing choices.

Addictions come with a stigma, and for many people, it’s important to hide the symptoms of drug use. They don’t want anyone to know, so they won’t be blamed for their behavior. Someone like this might demand privacy and spend a great deal of time alone. Bursts of anger, when asked about habits and choices, may also appear.

Addiction is not triggered by a lack of willpower or a character flaw. It is a chemical condition caused by the drug’s interaction with the brain.
When it takes hold, the person may be unable to stop even if they want to do so. That doesn’t mean death by addiction is inevitable.

You Can Help 

You didn’t cause the person’s addiction. But with your love and support, you may help the person to get the treatment that’s required.

You can:

  • Learn more. Find out how addictions develop and how they are treated.
  • Research treatment options. Investigate addiction programs. Learn more about what they offer and how to enroll.
  • Join a support group. It’s hard to care for someone with an addiction. A support group can give you the tools you need to get started. You can also learn from peers who have been through the same ordeal.
  • Talk with an interventionist. These professionals specialize in difficult conversations about addiction. You may learn how to talk about treatment with the person you love.
  • Be open and honest. Talk about the signs you see. Express your love and support. Keep lines of communication open, and do not let the topic slide into the background
  • Offer your help. Having an addiction is scary. People often feel isolated and alone. Be ready to listen when the person you love is ready to talk
  • Take care of yourself. It’s hard to give to others when you’re exhausted. Prioritize sleep, fitness, and nutrition.

It might take time for the person you love to admit to the abuse and seek out help. With your persistence and love, and kindness, you can help to move the person in the right direction. Soon, you’ll all be moving toward a healthier, happier future.

Sources

(February 2018). Synthetic Cathinones ("Bath Salts"). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cathinones-bath-salts

(April 2013). Synthetic Cathinones: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/qa/synthetic-cathinones-signs-symptoms-and-treatment/page/0/1

(June 2016). Fact Sheet: Synthetic Cathinones. Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved February 2019 from http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DPA_Fact_Sheet_Synthetic_Cathinones_%28June%202016%29.pdf

What Are the Effects of Synthetic Cathinones? Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved February 2019 from http://www.drugpolicy.org/what-are-effects-synthetic-cathinones

Synthetic Cathinones. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. Retrieved February 2019 from https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/synthetic-cathinones/

(July 2012). Bath Salts and Synthetic Cannabinoids: A Review. Medscape. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/765892_3

(January 2016). What to Do if Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/treatment/what-to-do-if-your-adult-friend-or-loved-one-has-problem-drugs

How Do I Know If Someone Needs Help? Stay Safe Oregon. Retrieved February 2019 from https://staysafeoregon.com/know-someone-needs-help/

(January 2017). 7 Truths if Someone You Love is Addicted. Psychology Today. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201701/7-truths-if-someone-you-love-is-addicted

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