Bath salts are a new designer drug that are increasingly the target of statewide emergency bans and federal considerations because the substance is linked to severe hallucinations and acts of self-harm or suicide. Known chemically as MDMA, bath salts have a stimulant effect and create anxiety, paranoia, and mind-altering effects that have been compared to methamphetamine and heroin. Bath salts are easily accessible in boutique drug stores in the U.S. and online, as well as in Europe. The synthetic powder is sold under names like “Ivory Wave” or “Vanilla Sky” and is smoked, snorted, or injected.
The synthetic drug called “bath salts” is actually a blend of complex chemicals that has been compared to the strength of methamphetamine, and is believed responsible for hundreds of emergency room visits and several fatalities across the nation. With its potency also compared to heroin and cocaine, federal agencies are considering stronger bans and restrictions nationwide on bath salts.
Unlike their name, bath salts aren’t used in the bath, but are injected, snorted through the nose or smoked. Known chemically as mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV, bath salts have street names like “Bliss,” “Ivory Wave,” “Red Dove” and “Vanilla Sky” or “White Lightning.” The substance is most commonly sold in powder form.
The physical effects of bath salts are dangerous or life-threatening, including rapid increases in heart rate, extreme paranoia, hallucinations and thoughts or attempts at suicide. Severe effects from the drug’s stimulant properties have been reported at emergency rooms across the country. Family members of bath salt users have reported acts of “craziness” that lasted for several days, including facial contortions and terrible hallucinations.
Due to being relatively accessible, easily concealed and more affordable than other street drugs, bath salts continue to rise in use, and poison control centers across the U.S. have seen significant increases in calls related to bath salts in 2011.
Bath salts have been banned in several states, but are still sold legally in boutique drug or party shops and on many Internet sites. States that have issued bans on bath salts include Florida, North Dakota and Louisiana. States considering bans include Mississippi, Kentucky and Hawaii.
Acts of violent self-harm have also been reported from bath salt use, with one man in his early 20s in Louisiana cutting his own throat and then shooting himself while high on the substance. In another case, another young man slashed his throat and abdomen several times with a knife while under the influence of bath salts. A Mississippi murder investigation is exploring whether bath salts were an influence in the crime.
In Louisiana, more than 125 emergency room calls were received over a three- month period related to the chemicals in bath salts, prompting an emergency ban on the substances. Some users of bath salts have been so traumatized by the hallucinogenic effects that they have encouraged lawmakers to ban the drugs, admitting the drug’s effects are more severe in some cases than heroin.
The origin of the drugs is an African plant called cathinone, which is a regulated substance. The synthetic version of the drugs, MDPV, isn’t yet regulated by Drug Enforcement Agency regulations because the chemicals aren’t labeled or sold for consumption by humans, although they are part of ongoing federal investigations. It is believed some bath salts are brought in to the U.S. from Europe and other international sites. State-based bans on bath salts have shown resulting declines in poison control calls and emergency room visits related to their use.
When bath salts are snorted, smoked or injected, the effects can last for days and users have reported experiencing very strong cravings once the high wears off. Law enforcement officials believe many methamphetamine users have begun using bath salts as a substitute, and are at risk for harming themselves or others under the drug’s powerful influence.
Bath salts have a cocaine-like effect and are believed to be addictive, and many people require professional treatment to recover from a dependence on the substance. An overdose of bath salts can also be fatal, and parents are urged to carefully monitor their children for any signs of use and to be wary of products labeled as “bath salts.”