By Eliza Player
Bizarre and horrifying stories of “bath salts” have been smattered across the newswire lately. We are all left with so many questions. Bath salts? Like the ones you use in the bathtub? What exactly are these bath salts?
Bath salts are a new synthetic drug that has exploded onto the marketplace in America, as well as the rest of the world. These chemicals are still legal in many parts of the United States, and they are often sold at gas stations, herb shops, and even smoke shops, sold with names like Ivory Wave, Cloud 9, and even Mr. Asia’s Yea-Yo. Anyone can walk into the right place and purchase these things. The packaging says “not for human consumption,” although is clearly what it is used for.
One man killed a police officer while under the influence of bath salts because he thought the cop was a vampire, while another man broke in a grocery store, covering himself in chocolate and peanut butter while writing apologies on the floor with Nyquil. One girl lost her arm from flesh-eating bacteria, and her doctor believes the bath salts could have been where the bacteria came from. Startling videos have emerged, showing people under the influence of this drug. I have to say, all this coverage makes this drug seem even more bizarre.
Some sources have called this drug “legal cocaine,” while others compare its effects to meth or ecstasy. To me, many of these reports remind of stories of PCP or LSD. So, we read these horror stories, but are still left wondering what this drug really is.
According to WebMD, poison centers and emergency rooms have had a growing number of calls and visits concerning bath salts. Zane Horowitz, MD, emergency room physician and medical director of the Oregon Poison Control Center, spoke to WebMD about the growing problem of these synthetic bath salts. Horowitz says these substances are believed to contain MDPV, or methylenedioxpyrovalerone. Some experts say bath salts may contain mephredone, and the symptoms of intoxication and overdose mimic this drug.
MDPV is a psychoactive drug with stimulant properties that act on the norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors. This compound is a crystalline powder that tends to clump to itself, resembling powdered sugar. MDPV has no medicinal use, and it is thought to be four times as potent as similar compounds that make up the active ingredient in the ADD medicines Ritalin and Concerta. Structurally, it is similar to MDMA, but its effects are more like cocaine and meth.
MDPV is said to produce extreme euphoria, increased attention and arousal, as well as increased mental stimulation, sociability, and energy. The drug can also cause rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, insomnia, headache, agitation, paranoia, confusion, and even psychotic delusions. In many cases, these patients have been unable to be sedated or restrained with usual methods, and they have been described to have “superhuman strength.” In October 2011, the DEA issued a temporary ban on MDPV, classifying it as a Schedule 1 drug.
Mephredone is a synthetic stimulant in the amphetamine and cathinone classes. It is reportedly manufactured in China, and it is chemically similar to the cathinone compounds found in the khat plant of Eastern Africa.
Khat is a slow-growing shrub or tree, and some argue it originated in Ethiopia. The plant is chewed to gain desired stimulant effects. Khat chewing has history of a social custom in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula that dates back a thousand years. The Ancient Egyptians considered the khat plant to be “divine food,” and it was used to achieve divination, while they communed with the gods.
Mephredone was discovered in 1929, but it did not become widely known until it was rediscovered in 2003. Mephredone was also part of the temporary emergency ban in October 2011. This drug causes euphoria, stimulation, and also agitation. Mephredone also causes teeth grinding, hallucinations, delusions, and erratic behavior. Both mephedrone and MDPV are thought to be addictive.
Both drugs come in a powdered form. The drugs can be eaten, smoked, snorted, or injected. Both drugs also affect dopamine, which is associated with reward centers and drug seeking. The National Institute of Drug Abuse believes both these drugs have a high risk of overdose. The effects of both these drugs can last for quite some time. Although most scientific reports say that the drug only last several hours, numerous users have reported the effects to last much longer. Furthermore, many of these bizarre instances involving bath salts have occurred even a day after ingesting the drug. The paranoia and hallucinations can last much longer in some patients. Karen E. Simone, director of the Northern New England Poison Center said, “Some of these folks aren’t right for a long time.” I have a friend whose son took bath salts and also suffered from agitation, paranoia, and hallucinations for quite some time afterwards.
After so many of these bath salt stories began to make headlines, the DEA imposed an emergency ban on MDPV, mephedone, and a similar chemical called methylone. The emergency ban will remain in place for a year, allowing officials time to try to permanently ban these drugs. Although these drugs are banned, they are still available on the Internet.
These drugs are designer drugs, made by chemists in a lab. These chemists have been able to skirt the ban by producing bath salts without these three banned substances. They create similar chemical compounds, with similar effects that are not under this ban. These synthetic stimulants are constantly reformulated to skirt the law.
One thing I would like to clarify…bath salts are not the same thing as “spice.” I have seen numerous articles stating that these two drugs are similar, but their only similarities are that they are both synthetic, and the makers of both change the formulas frequently to skirt the law. Spice is synthetic marijuana. This drug is an herbal form, which is smoked, producing similar effects to marijuana. Both bath salts and spice are being banned in the same swoop in many states.
Although all the ins and outs of this new designer drug is still relatively unknown, it is clear that these substances are dangerous. And to answer the most frequently asked question…no, these are not the same bath salts you would put in your bathtub. These chemicals are stimulants that can cause adverse side effects. These chemicals have a high risk of overdose and a likelihood of addiction. And most importantly, these chemicals have been the cause of many deaths around the country.
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