Prior to the summer of 2012, the term “bath salts” might have caused most people to think of Martha Stewart and craft projects they could put together as gifts. Much of that changed during those summer months, as media outlets began producing chilling stories of people who took bath salts and engaged in activities no sober person would ever consider. In one such story, a man in Louisiana attacked a friend with his hands and his teeth, and when the victim retaliated, the man left for another house and attacked another man at knife point. The attacker’s blood was not tested, but an acquaintance reported that the man had been using bath salts, according to a news report.
These incidents might have surprised readers, but they may not have surprised medical experts. In fact, many experts were well aware that the ingredients found in some bath salts were incredibly dangerous. Perhaps if people knew more about what bath salts contained, and what they could do, they would get help for this abuse.
A Fast Response
Bath salts are typically sold in powdered form, placed in small foil or plastic packages. Often, these packages contain no dosing information, nor do they include an ingredient list. This omission may be purposeful, as manufacturers hope that they can avoid prosecution for the drugs they make. If these manufacturers claim that they aren’t making products designed for human consumption, they hope they can’t be held liable for the symptoms these drugs bring about. It’s a trick that rarely works, and consumers are rarely fooled by the tactic either. The names of the bath salts clearly indicate what the substances are designed to do.
Common names include:
- Cloud Nine
- White Lightening
These descriptive names clearly indicate that the substances are designed to alter reality and deliver some sort of experience to those who take them, and that experience may come about sooner than the user ever thought possible. According to the Partnership at Drugfree.org, most users sniff or snort the drug, exposing their sensitive mucosal membranes to the drug. Within 15 minutes, the sensations begin and they can last for four to six hours.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that most bath salts are created in overseas laboratories, and the production techniques they use aren’t regulated. As a result, it’s incredibly difficult for officials to know what makes up a “true” ingredient list for bath salts. Some manufacturers may use a specific set of ingredients, while another might use completely different chemicals. Some manufacturers may even use different ingredients on different days. As a result, people who take in bath salts may be playing a form of Russian roulette with their health. They may be taking in the ingredients they expect, but they may also be taking in toxic or deadly chemicals. Since the industry is unregulated, it’s almost impossible to know with certainty what is contained in a packet of bath salts.
In studies of bath salts, experts have determined that many contain a man-made stimulant known as mephedrone. This is an incredibly powerful drug that can cause pleasant sensations in some people, but it’s also been linked with very high rates of overdose, and many people fall ill when they’re exposed to mephedrone. According to a study of the chemical, published in the Emergency Medicine Journal, of 15 people who went to the emergency room due to mephedrone:
- 53.3 percent had agitation
- 40 percent had tachycardia (fast heart rate)
- 20 percent had high blood pressure
- 20 percent had seizures
Since these percentages add up to more than 100, it’s clear that some people had more than one symptom at the same time. Other studies have brought back similar results, which indicate that this drug is quite dangerous, and can cause serious medical problems in people who choose to take it.
People who take bath salts report feeling strong and invincible, as though nothing could harm them and no one could overpower them. These people might also hallucinate, remaining convinced that they’re being chased, attacked or injured, even while nothing is happening around them. People on bath salts are difficult, if not impossible, to reason with as well, and they might engage in violent altercations with law enforcement agents while they struggle with their altered state. Even people who don’t attack others might have terrifying experiences while they’re on bath salts, and those episodes might be hard for them to forget.
Since the bath salts experience is so terrifying, many people call authorities for help. They may feel as though they’re dying, and they might be desperate to reverse the damage. According to the website Above the Influence, there were over 250 calls to poison control centers in the United States related to bath salts between January and February of 2011, indicating that many people are trying the drug, and finding the experience incredibly unpleasant or dangerous. After all, if they were enjoying their drug experience, they likely wouldn’t have asked for help from poison control centers.
While the experience itself might be unpleasant, people who use bath salts might also find that they’re left with cravings to use the drug again. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stimulant chemicals in bath salts tend to cause chemical changes in the brain, similar to the changes seen in people who abuse methamphetamine. These chemical changes can cause people to return to bath salts use, even if they don’t really like the way the drug makes them feel. When use becomes compulsive in this way, addiction has set in. It’s a real risk for people who abuse bath salts.
As reports of violent behavior were linked to bath salts, many states responded by banning the drugs. In New York, for example, those who bought or sold bath salts could face $500 in fines and up to 15 days in jail. This is remarkable, since the drug had been considered legal just a few weeks prior, and people could wander into local shops and make a purchase without arousing any sort of suspicion. Now, that same action could cost them their freedom.
Legislators often hope that banning the drug will alert users to the fact that the drug is dangerous, and these users might decide not to use the drug in the future. While this might seem like a reasonable chain of events, evidence suggests that many users don’t change their habits when the laws change. For example, a study in The Lancet found that 63 percent of people who had been using mephedrone when it was legal continued to use the drug when it was deemed illegal. Instead of buying the drug in a store or online, they would buy the drug from dealers. However, they fully intended to keep using. It’s a disturbing thought, but addiction is really to blame.
Help for Addiction
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that is driven by chemical changes in the brain. Pesky details such as the legal status of a drug can’t change behaviors in people who are addicted. Instead, these users need to enter treatment programs and learn more about how their addictions developed, and what can be done about them. Only then will these users be able to move forward with their lives and leave drugs like bath salts behind them.
At Axis, we provide treatment programs for addiction to older drugs of abuse like heroin and newer designer drugs like bath salts. We work hard to understand our clients and develop programs that are tailored to meet their needs. If you’d like to know more about the work we do, please contact our operators through our toll-free helpline.