“Bath salts” is an informal term that is most commonly used to refer to designer drugs called synthetic cathinones. Cathinones are a stimulant drug derived from a plant called khat. Synthetic cathinones are a combination of these stimulants and many other chemicals and produce effects most similar to amphetamines and Ecstasy.
The name “bath salts” comes from the drug being legally sold in head shops, gas stations, convenience stores, and more in the form of incense, fertilizer, jewelry cleaner, and yes, bath salts.
Synthetic drugs are often able to be sold commercially and exploit legal loopholes because manufacturers constantly alter the substances’ chemical structure so that it is different enough to avoid identification and stay ahead of drug laws and restrictions.
As soon as one version of bath salts is analyzed and made illegal, five new ones will appear, as they are cheap and easy to synthesize, often just an almost random combination of different chemicals. This is largely what makes bath salts so dangerous because there’s almost no way for users to know the potency or exact contents of what they’re taking.
Even the smallest changes in the chemical structure of a dose of bath salts can cause significant variations in how it affects the user. Someone can take bath salts one time and experience effects typically associated with stimulants like cocaine, and then take it again and suffer seizures, organ failure, and brain damage.
The lack of consistency between one dose of bath salts and another makes it a bit difficult to pin down precisely what they do it and how they do it. However, the cathinone that is identified in bath salts with the highest frequency is methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), which works like many amphetamines, mostly affecting dopamine, serotonin, and norephedrine, which are chemicals in the brain that are responsible for regulating energy, alertness, and euphoria, among other things.
MDPV works on these brain chemicals by inhibiting a process known as “reuptake.” The brain releases dopamine to produce feelings of pleasure as a reward for completing a necessary task like eating. When the dopamine is no longer needed, it is reabsorbed by the brain for future use through the process of reuptake.
MDVP enters the brain and blocks reuptake to stop it from happening, allowing these chemicals to build up in the brain and the user to feel their effects more strongly and for a longer time.
While the signs of substance abuse and addiction are in many cases harder to identify than people commonly believe, the increasingly aggressive and atypical behavior caused by bath salts abuse is often hard to miss.
Other extreme side effects of regular bath salts abuse that can be indicative of dependence and potential addiction include:
Addiction is something that happens in stages, a progression from abuse to dependence and onward until someone can no longer control their usage and will instead use compulsively. As obtaining and using baths salts become the focus of someone’s life, it takes precedence over nearly everything else, including their family and responsibilities, as well as their own health and safety.
They also will exhibit behaviors consistent not only with a growing addiction to bath salts but also with substance use disorders in general.
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Bath salts are extremely powerful and can be just as unpredictable, which means that waiting too long to seek out professional addiction treatment services can mean the difference between life and death. If you have observed these symptoms in someone you care about or have been experiencing them yourself, take steps to get help as soon as possible.
While medical detoxification is usually recommended as the starting point for the treatment of almost any addictive substance, it is absolutely critical in bath salts addiction treatment. Detox is the process during which any drugs, alcohol or associated toxins are flushed from someone’s system to get them stabilized and stem any further possible damage the substances’ presence might be causing.
Since there is almost no way to accurately identify the toxicity, potency, or even the exact contents of whatever bath salts someone has taken, getting it out of their system is of the utmost importance for their own safety.
For these same reasons, no one should ever attempt to detox from bath salts without an experienced professional detox team. People who experience acute bath salts intoxication have also been known to experience delirium and panic attacks and exhibit violent and confused behavior that can make them a danger to themselves and those around them as well.
Withdrawal symptoms can also potentially include anything from depression and anxiety to hallucinations, memory loss, and even total psychosis, which is why it is so important that bath salts detox take place in a safe and controlled environment.
After detox has been safely completed, the next step in bath salts addiction treatment is to continue ongoing care in an addiction recovery program. In recovery treatment, doctors, therapists, and staff work with clients to help them understand the underlying issues at the heart of the addiction. From there, they can work toward being able to manage their addiction more effectively with positive coping skills that will aid in maintaining sobriety in the long-term.
These programs can be done either in inpatient form, which involves living onsite at a treatment facility with round-the-clock access to medical and therapeutic care or an outpatient program, which has the client continue living at home and commuting to a center for their treatment sessions.
Typically, clients will work with their clinician or therapist to create a customized treatment plan that will combine different treatment therapies that have been evaluated to best suit their recovery needs.
At this point, it should be fairly apparent that bath salts are incredibly dangerous, in large part because someone using them can never be sure exactly what they’re going to get. While cathinones themselves usually have stimulant effects, there’s no telling how strong those effects might be or what other substances might also be in a given dose.
Bath salts are so dangerous that they do not have to be abused to put someone in a life-threatening situation. Just using bath salts even once can lead to the user experiencing potentially fatal side effects such as:
Bath salts have the potential to kill someone in just a single use, and not only from the side effects or the threat of overdose but also because of all of the different versions of bath salts out there, many of which have yet to be properly identified and studied. This means that emergency medical services may not be able to properly treat someone who is having an adverse reaction to bath salts or an overdose because they won’t be able to tell what’s causing the symptoms. This uncertainty increases the risk of a misdiagnosis that can end up causing even more problems and possibly deadly complications.
There are so many uncertainties that are involved in bath salts use. The only thing that can be said for sure is if you are struggling with baths salts addiction, then you must get help as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the higher the chance of an overdose or worse. But you are not alone, and help is available at Serenity at Summit.
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Khat. (n.d.) Retrieved from from https://drugfree.org/drug/khat/
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Diversion Control Division. Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section. 3,4-Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) (Street Names: “bath salts,” “Ivory Wave,” “plant fertilizer,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Energy-1”). (July 2019) Retrieved from from https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/mdpv.pdf
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, February). Synthetic Cathinones ("Bath Salts"). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cathinones-bath-salts
Glennon, R. A., & Young, R. (2016, April 29). Neurobiology of 3,4-Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and α-Pyrrolidinovalerophenone (α-PVP). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5817884/
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Palamar, J. J., Ph.D. (2015, July 14). "Bath Salt" Use Among a Nationally Representative Sample of High School Seniors in the United States. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ajad.12254
Prosser, J. M., & Nelson, L. S. (2012, March). The Toxicology of Bath Salts: A Review of Synthetic Cathinones. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13181-011-0193-z