Dangers of "Bath Salts"

Bath Salts Illegal Drug Image

The term "bath salts" refers to the street name for products that contain concentrated, synthetic versions of chemicals called cathinones. Dangerous when used as illegal drugs, they are not the same as products commonly added to bath water.

Cathinone is a nervous system stimulant found naturally in khat—a plant cultivated in East Africa and other areas of the world. Typically, the leaves of the khat shrub are chewed like tobacco. Synthetic cathinones are found in various products, such as plant food/fertilizers, insect repellants, cleaners, fresheners, and others, that are sold legally in stores and online. These products, which often are labeled "not for consumption," may appear to be authentic goods, but they are increasingly abused, according to several government drug agencies.

Synthetic cathinones include MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxyprovalerone), mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone, 4-MMC), methylone (3,4-methylenedioxymethcathinone, MDMC), and others. Certain prescription drugs—for example, bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin)—contain legal synthetic cathinones.

Bath salts are highly addictive and produce severe effects similar to amphetamines and cocaine. They are "branded" and sold under many names, including the following:

  • Bliss
  • Blue Silk
  • Charge+
  • Cloud Nine
  • Drone
  • Energy-1
  • Hurricane Charlie
  • Ivory Snow
  • Ivory Wave
  • Lunar Wave
  • Meow Meow
  • Ocean Burst
  • Pure Ivory
  • Purple Wave
  • Red Dove
  • Snow Leopard
  • Stardust
  • Vanilla Sky
  • White Dove
  • White Knight
  • White Rush
  • White Lightening
  • Others

On the street, bath salts often are sold in powder, crystal or liquid form, or as tablets or capsules. Sometimes, tablets or capsules contain synthetic cathinones combined with other drugs like ecstasy. Bath salts may be ingested by sniffing, snorting or smoking; taken orally; or added to a liquid and injected. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, some people who abuse bath salts mix the chemicals with solvents and inhale them, or apply solutions containing the substances to the mucous membranes of the nose or eyes.

"Flakka" is a synthetic amphetamine-like stimulant that is similar to the compound contained in bath salts. As of April 2015, use of this new designer drug has been reported primarily in Florida, Texas, and Ohio. Swallowing, snorting, injecting, or using this drug in an e-cigarette (electronic cigarette) causes a condition called "excited delirium," which produces abnormal ("superhuman") strength, sweating, paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. Flakka is a dangerous drug that can cause severe kidney damage.

According to an article in The Washington Post in April 2016, flakka use in southern Florida decreased dramatically since the summer of 2015. The article reports that drug epidemics rarely "burn out" in the manner flakka has in this area. Per the WP, experts attribute the sharp decline to unprecedented coordination among local groups to fight demand for the drug and the discontinuation of flakka production overseas.

According to a study in July 2015, about 1 percent of high school seniors in the United States had tried bath salts. About one-third of these young people reported using the dangerous street drugs only once or twice, but almost one-fifth are regular users—40 or more uses in a year. In 2011, the drugs were linked to more than 20,000 emergency room visits.

Effects of Bath Salts

Incidence of bath salts abuse is rising and has been linked to an increasing number of emergency room visits in recent years. The availability of these drugs in the United States is high and bath salt abuse has become a dangerous, serious, and growing safety concern and public health issue. Abuse occurs in teens and adults of all ages, and seems to be highest in people in their 20s who are seeking stimulant effects similar to those produced by illegal and prescription amphetamines/methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy (MDMA).

Abusing bath salts can cause a number of short-term effects, including severe intoxication that impairs driving ability, as well as permanent damage, in some cases. The long-term effects of using the substances aren’t fully known at this time.

Reported effects of abusing bath salts include:

  • Agitation; combative or violent behavior
  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Euphoria (exaggerated feelings of wellness/elation)
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Heightened senses of alertness, awareness, wakefulness, and arousal; mental stimulation
  • Heightened sociability and increased sex drive
  • Improved ability to concentrate
  • Increased energy/motivation
  • Panic attacks
  • Reduced recognition of the need to eat and sleep
  • Suicidal thoughts, actions

Physical symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Increased body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting (may be severe
  • Seizures
  • Others

The onset of these effects varies depending on a number of factors, including the method of ingestion. Average onset takes about 15 minutes. The effects of abusing bath salts usually last 3 to 6 hours or so, and some effects can linger for up to 8 hours.

Serious symptoms associated with bath salt use—such as increased heart rate, high blood pressure, chest pain, and psychiatric symptoms like paranoia, hallucinations, and panic attacks—may require immediate medical attention. A condition called "excited delirium" from using bath salts may cause dehydration, muscle damage, and kidney failure. Severe intoxication may be fatal.

More research is needed to determine the long-term health effects of using bath salts. Frequent use may cause tolerance and dependence, and lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. Because bath salts may contain other chemicals—known or unknown—adverse effects may be compounded.

For more information, or if you suspect someone has taken bath salts, call the Poison Control Center at 1.800.222.1222 (in the United States). Dial 9-1-1 immediately if the person stops breathing, collapses, loses consciousness, or has a seizure.

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse, American Association of Poison Control Centers, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and National Drug Intelligence Center; Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 30 Jan 2013

Last Modified: 05 Apr 2016