Bath salts have been all the rage since the legal “gas station” highs became popular. Bath salts are based primarily based off of a chemical called mephedrone first synthesized in the 1920’s. They’re difficult to stop because once the FDA targets a specific compound to make illegal, chemists can simply alter that compound a miniscule amount. The compound is technically no longer illegal until the federal government catches on to the new molecular structure. This also makes them all the more dangerous because no one can know exactly what that slight alteration in the chemical makeup will do to a human. Even though they typically exist in a legal gray area, bath salts can be a very scary drug. The Florida “Face eater” Rudy Eugene was rumored to be under the influence of bath salts when he violently maimed his victim. Although toxicology reports came back negative for bath salts, this attack sealed the reputation of this drug. This story cemented the volatile reputation this dangerous drug has. Though bath salts were not found in the system of Rudy Eugene, experts were soon drawing parallels between bath salts and some of the more dangerous, risky drugs of the past. Long forgotten drugs like PCP soon came back into the conversation. How much of a danger are these newer research chemicals though?
Bath Salts’ History as a Research Chemical
The term ‘bath salts’ refers to a class of extremely similar drugs more than it does one particular compound. The class of drugs in particular that the term refers to is called ‘synthetic cathinones’ because they were first developed from the stimulating khat plant. Synthetic cathinones, or bath salts, were first developed in France in the 1920s for their potential medical use. Most of the compounds synthesized never made it past the research phase, being shelved due to major side effects and the development of dependency. Abuse of these drugs began in the 1940s, where the Soviets were using bath salts as antidepressants. After many years underground, they made a resurgence in the Netherlands in fake ecstasy pills. Soon after, discussion of the drugs was found in drug forums online. It wasn’t long before morally deficient chemists realized the market for the drug and began selling them in gas stations in America. Since the primary compound was not yet illegal in America, they simply marked their packages as “not intended for human consumption” and a devastating market was born. It took several years before the FDA caught on and illegalized MDPV, also known as mephedrone. This is the most common bath salt drug, and all variations of bath salts are based off of this grandfather compound.
What Effects do Bath Salts Have?
Bath salts’ sudden rise in popularity wasn’t simply because they exist in a legal gray area. They are an extremely powerful psychoactive stimulant. Bath salts contain properties that are so similar to both methamphetamine and ecstasy that these characteristics have become the some of the strongest marketing points for the drug. They are sold as “legal substitutes” to illicit drugs. A user of bath salts may experience a unique combination of effects and toxicities:
- Like meth but unlike ecstasy, rats quickly develop a craving for mephedrone and will keep pressing a lever in order to get more.
- Like meth, mephedrone increases brain levels of dopamine.
- Like ecstasy, mephedrone increases brain levels of serotonin.
- Like ecstasy, repeat doses of mephedrone damages the brain’s ability to respond to serotonin (although human users of bath salts frequently binge, while ecstasy users usually don’t).
- Like both ecstasy and meth, mephedrone causes the body to overheat.
Someone who is high on bath salts will appear to have:
- Dilated pupils
- Poor concentration
- Teeth grinding (bruxia)
- Problems focusing visually
- Poor short-term memory
- Erratic behavior
The comparisons between bath salts, MDMA, methamphetamine, and cocaine are strong. It would be difficult for the outside observer to determine that someone is specifically abusing bath salts without prior knowledge.
Long-Term Effects of Bath Salt Abuse
Bath salts, mephedrone, or MDPV, whatever you prefer to call the drug, have potentially devastating, life-threatening effects on the body if they are used for any sort of duration. The amphetamine-like qualities of the drug make it extremely addictive, and some studies have indicated that it can be more addictive than methamphetamine. Whether the user is snorting, smoking, or injecting bath salts, he will likely experience at least some of these life-altering consequences to his physical health if he abuses the drug with regularity or for any duration of time:
- Kidney failure
- Liver damage
- Heart arrhythmia
- Heart attack
- Intense headaches
- Increased body temperature, which can damage the entire body
- Dental damage from regular teeth grinding
- Extreme cravings for the drug
- Muscle fiber degradation, possibly leading to heart attack or death
The long-term effects of bath salts are not to be underestimated. This drug can absolutely alter the course of even a recreational user’s life. No one ever intends to get addicted to a drug, but with a drug as powerful as this, it is not only possible but probable. Bath salts are like cocaine’s effects on the brain, but are likely up to ten times as strong.
Overdose Signs of Bath Salts
Because bath salts are similar to amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, and other stimulants, they have similar effects when showing signs of overdose. Tragically, similar to other illicit stimulants, the strength and quality of the drug varies from batch to batch. This fact rings especially true with bath salts. While quality and purity can vary from batch to batch in all drugs, with bath salts, the user cannot even be sure if he is getting the exact same compound. What can be a normal dose of one compound can be a fatal dose of a structurally similar compound. This makes it critical to watch someone who might be abusing bath salts for signs of overdose. Observable signs of bath salts overdose include the following symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe agitation
- Bizarre behavior
- Complaints of serious heart, chest, stomach and kidney pain
- Verbal aggression
- Suicidal ideation
- Dangerous risk-taking
- Extreme body temperature
Even though this list is long, it is not exhaustive. If a person is exhibiting these symptoms, he or she should be given medical attention immediately. An overdose on bath salts generally kills by one of the following symptoms that may or may not be observable:
- Cardiac dysfunction
- Kidney failure
Although we hope that a person never reaches the critical point of overdose from a drug as dangerous as bath salts, an overdose can be the turning point that can propel the bath salts addict into treatment.
Recovery from a Bath Salts Addiction
Although bath salts are one of the scariest, most volatile drugs on the streets nowadays, recovery is always possible. Many a broken addict eventually gives in and decides that enough is enough. After trying to find success and happiness in life and failing time and time again, we all eventually ask “could it be the drugs?” When the addict gets to that point, he will realize that he is at a crossroads. There comes a time in any addiction that the addict has to see that to continue you on is to slowly commit suicide. As scared as every addict is in active addiction, when faced with the prospect of imminent death, many are willing to change. Given, not all addicts are. Some of us carry that fatalistic mindset to the very bitter end. But when the addict is that critical breaking point and reaches out, he can hope for the strong hand of someone stable in recovery to carry him toward sobriety and health. It is a long road that will make much time, especially with such a powerful and poisonous drug. It can be done though. Anything can be done so long as we aren’t already facing the long sleep.
Steps toward Recovery from Bath Salts
Bath salts, mephedrone, MDPV–all of these very similar chemicals are physically addictive. This means that when the addict makes the move toward recovery, a medically supervised detox is likely going to be needed. Once the patient has been admitted to a reputable medical detox facility and is comfortable, the detox process can begin. Admission to a detox has several benefits. It allows the addict to detox safely while under the care of a knowledgeable physician who has dealt with these types of addictions previously. The physician can prescribe medications for the addict’s comfort, although nothing will completely stop the suffering except time. Generally, the addict will begin to feel better after around a week inside a detox, so long as he has been granted a clean bill of health from the abuses that he has put his body through. A thorough examination by the attending physician can eliminate any questions about health. It would be prudent to ask questions about kidney function and blood tests for diseases such as hepatitis. Unfortunately, users of bath salts are at a higher risk for blood borne diseases.
Continued Treatment for Bath Salts
After a stay in the medical detox facility, inpatient treatment would be highly advised for the early stages of recovery from this drug. An inpatient stay allows the patient time away from the drug in a safe place where his brain can begin to heal as he fights through those first, powerful, difficult cravings. Many addicts have described cravings as thoughts being so powerful that they come with their own painful, physical sensations. It is as if the body is dying from dehydration and is screaming out for water. Cravings for the drug should never be underestimated. They can completely take over a person’s mind, becoming their every thought. They are a potentially critical catalyst for relapse. But those who are first entering recovery shouldn’t worry about the difficult road ahead yet. If you are thinking about taking the plunge to stop using bath salts and turning your life around, reach out and talk to someone. Whether you speak to a family member, friend, or someone in a twelve-step meeting doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have reached out and told someone what you are going through. This will immediately ease the burden of silent suffering you have been enduring. No matter how arduous you believe the journey toward recovery and happiness to be, know that you are worth it. There is no need to suffer for your addiction. Help is never far away.