Bath salts, the drug, have nothing to do with bathing. Bath salts are known as such because of their resemblance to legitimate bath salts, like epsom salt, that are used for actual bathing. Chemically, drugs that are considered bath salts are related to cathinone, a naturally occurring stimulant that is found in the leave of the East African Khat plant. The cathinone in bath salts is synthetic though, and more potent than the naturally occurring cathonine. Because of this, in some cases, consuming bath salts can be fatal.
Bath salts belong to a group of drugs that health officials call “new psychoactive substances.” These are psychoactive drugs that mimic the effects of existing illegal substances and have only made their presence in the drug market within the past decade. Regulating bath salts has proven extremely difficult, as the drug’s manufacturers continually change the “recipe” to evade newly instated drug laws.
Bath salts first appeared in Europe in 2007, and it didn’t take long before they reached the United States. The number of calls to United States poison control centers that were related to bath salts went from zero in 2009 to 302 in 2010. In 2011, there were 2,237 bath salt-related calls reported.
In 2011, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) enacted an emergency ban on the three chemicals most commonly used to make these dangerous substances. Drug manufacturers, though, have remained one step ahead of law enforcement, constantly finding new ways to get around the law.
Bath salts misuse appears to have declined recently, as many sellers relabeled the bath salts in their original form as “molly” or “flakka”, so many people don’t even know they’re taking bath salts. Bath salts usually take the form of a white or brown crystal-like powder and are sold with packaging that make their purchase appear legal — for example, “jewelry cleaner” labeled “not for human consumption”. Other labels that dealers may use for these substances are “plant food” and “phone screen cleaner.” Once acquired, the powder is snorted, injected, smoked, or swallowed. Nasal inhalation and injection use preset the highest risk of overdose and death.
Bath Salts Effects
Synthetic cathinones are still relatively new to the drug market so the long-term effects on humans have yet to be thoroughly investigated. Due to the chemical similarities between methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and cocaine or methamphetamine, their effects on the brain are likely to be similar. With that being said, the effects may be much more intense because MDVP is reportedly 10 times more powerful than cocaine.
Bath salts have been called a variant of cocaine, methamphetamine,or ecstasy because their stimulant characteristics are quite similar in nature. Like cocaine, bath salts are frequently crystalline in appearance, and can be regularly purchased on the street.
The side effects of bath salts are diverse and inconsistent between different “batches” due to the wide variety of substances labeled as “bath salts.” The effects caused by the same type of bath salts may vary between different users and also depend on the amount taken and the method of ingestion.
The common short-term effects felt by most people with a bath salts use disorder include:
- Increased alertness and energy
- Enhanced empathy and ability to interact socially
- Intensified sensory experiences
- Increased libido
- Reduced appetite
The long-term effects of bath salts include many serious side effects that can result in serious injury or death. In addition to being addictive, bath salts — like many stimulant substances — can result in dangerously erratic behavior and, over time, contribute to the development of psychosis and mood disorders.
Some of the most serious bath salts side effects include mood disorders, since these can result in profound depressed states and potential suicide attempts, self-mutilation and delirium, which are both common with the misuse of bath salts over time.
Potential long-term side effects of bath salts misuse include:
- Liver failure
- Kidney damage
- Bone pain
- Severe depression
- Mood disorders
In addition to the negative effects from bath salts themselves, people with bath salts use disorder face additional, and possibly lethal, toxic side effects including:
- Vein blockage
- Skin erosion
- Infection at the injection sites
- Blood clots
- Increased risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other blood-borne illnesses
Bath Salts Side Effects
Researchers are not sure how bath salts affect the brain, although it appears that, like other stimulants, they flood the brain with dopamine. By changing how much dopamine is accessible to neurons, the individual experiences a rapidly elevated mood, approaching mania, in addition to experiencing hallucinations, physical excitement, tremors, and heart rate fluctuations, delusions, paranoia and delusions of grandeur. At first, however, bath salts can produce a stimulating, euphoric high.
In addition to the effects desired by people who misuse bath salts, there are many serious bath salts side effects associated with misuse. These can impact a person starting with the first time they take the substance, and it does not need to be used for a long period of time or in high doses before negative side effects occur.
Individuals who chronically use bath salts may demonstrate a number of cognitive issues involving attention span. Also, a number of potentially fatal side effects, like cardiovascular effects, seizures and brain swelling, can develop with bath salts usage. Seizures, swelling of the brain, and respiratory distress may produce significant damage to areas of the brain. Frequent and chronic use of these substance use disorder in which individuals develop physical dependence.
Some side effects of bath salts misuse include:
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain
- An increase in the risk for heart attacks and strokes
- Nausea and abdominal pain.
- Dilated pupils
- Tingling in the extremities
- Erratic behavior
Some severe psychiatric bath salts side effects include:
- Panic attacks
- Paranoia and delusions
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Suicidal thoughts
- Self-harm behavior
A 2013 study found that one of the main substances used in bath salts, MDPV, is highly addictive — possibly even more so than meth. The adverse effects of MDPV can last as many as 6 to 8 hours after misuse, and it has been reported to cause prolonged panic attacks, psychosis and death.
Bath Salt Symptoms
The effects from Bath salts can last for 3 to 4 hours before the user has a potentially harsh crash. The total experience typically lasts between 6 and 8 hours.
In many cases in the United States and the United Kingdom, the signs of bath salts misuse included acts of violence that resulted in the death of multiple people or suicide attempts. The paranoia and delusions associated with this type of substance can trigger a wide range of violent or suicidal behaviors because the person misusing the substance is completely disassociated from reality.
According to PBS NewsHour, a method for detecting bath salts is being developed, but it will be for law enforcement use and not necessarily available for everyone to use in the home. This may help people isolate the problem if their loved one has a run-in with the law while under the influence of bath salts. Until then, people should know the symptoms of a bath salts use disorder.
Some bath salts drug abuse symptoms include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Chest pains
- Increased heart rate
- Kidney pain
- Increased body temperature or chills
- Muscle tension
- Reduced appetite
- Suicidal ideas
A person misusing bath salts may overheat and tear off their clothing trying to cool down. Paranoia may drive an individual to aggressive, uncontrolled attacks on others, or self-destruction. They are often unresponsive to any commands to stop their actions.
Signs of Bath Salts Use
Individuals who have developed bath salts use disorder may display warning signs, which can identificate their dependency level. There are a number of signs and symptoms of bath salts misuse. Some signs to look out for include:
Nasal Damage –Bath salts are often taken intranasally. Snorting drugs can cause a number of visible, negative side effects on the nasal membranes. The most common nasal effects are:
- Perforated nasal septum
- Bleeding nose
The above symptoms could be a result of bath salts misuse or addiction and are a reason for concern.
Sudden Weight Loss- Bath salts can reduce an individual’s appetite and if they are misusing the substance consistently, weight loss is likely to occur.
Aggression/Violent Behavior – Aggression is a common adverse effect associated with bath salts intoxication. If an individual exhibits violent behavior unusual to their character, there is a chance they could be misusing bath salts. It’s important to note that a person shouldn’t be approached if they are in a violent and unpredictable state because it could be dangerous. Aggression and violent behavior should not be taken lightly.
Teeth Grinding – Someone who is under the influence of bath salts is likely to experience teeth grinding or a clenched jaw, also known as bruxism. It is a typical side effect of bath salts and may lead to tooth damage and cracking.
Psychosis – Individuals with bath salts use disorder commonly report experiencing paranoia, auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions after having misused bath bath salts. They become disconnected with reality and exhibit erratic behavior. Psychosis or psychotic-type symptoms, not better explained by a mental health disorder, is a major sign of bath salts misuse.
Intense Euphoria and Energy- Bath salts can hijack the pathways of the brain that are concerned with reward and cause the individual with the bath salts use disorder to feel intense euphoria or happiness. Because bath salts illicit amphetamine-like effects, the individual under the influence will typically have an unusual amount of energy. These are two tell-tale signs of bath salts misuse and should not be ignored.
Presence of Keys with Powder Residue- The most common route of administration for bath salts is nasal insufflation. Many individuals with a bath salts misuse disorder dip a key in the powder form of the substance and snort the powder from the key. This is called “keying” and a gram of bath salts will supply a person with a bath salts misuse disorder with anywhere from 5 to 8 keys.
The development of a bath salts use disorder as a result of misusing the substance represents a significant long-term issue. A substance use disorder is a serious mental health disorder that requires long-term and intensive treatment. Many individuals find that they encounter a number of ups and downs in their recovery process. It’s important that these individuals seek treatment and remain actively involved in their treatment for a sufficient length of time. In addition, individuals who have suffered physical damage to their central nervous system — the brain and spinal cord — or other important body systems may require lifelong medical treatment.
If you or a someone you love exhibits any, or a combination, of the aforementioned signs of bath salt use, it’s important to seek help. Contact The Recovery Village today and speak with one of our representatives to learn how you can begin a path to recovery for yourself or for loved one.
Burch, Kelly. “Record Amount of Cocaine Seized During 2016.” The Fix, 2 Mar. 2017. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.
CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research). “Cocaine.” CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research), 29 Oct. 2013. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.
Doward, Jamie. “Warning of Extra Heart Dangers from Mixing Cocaine and Alcohol.” The Guardian, 7 Nov. 2009. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.
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