In 2012, “bath salts” were making headlines in the news. At the time, the drug was so new, it was still legal on the market and being sold in stores, labeled as “not for human consumption.” Today, this designer drug is no longer legal, but it has not stopped individuals from seeking it out.

Despite sharing a name with a popular product manufactured by Epsom, the drug does not have any calming effects. Bath salts stimulate the central nervous system. They inhibit the norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake system. Street names for the drug include:

What Are Bath Salts?
  • Pure ivory
  • Purple sky
  • Bliss
  • Purple wave
  • Ivory wave
  • Vanilla sky
  • Red dove
  • Zoom
  • Bloom
  • Blue silk
  • Cloud nine
  • Lunar wave
  • Ocean snow
  • Scarface
  • Hurricane Charlie
  • Drone
  • Energy-1
  • White lightening
  • White rush
  • Charge plus
  • Plant fertilizer
  • Pure ivory
  • Ocean burst
  • Sextasy
  • Snow leopard
  • Star dust
  • White night
  • Plant food

US Customs and Border Protection states that bath salts originated overseas and came to the United States shortly thereafter, and the same applies to the modified versions intended to bypass federal regulations. Bath salts are sold in powdered form in small, foil or plastic packages. The powder appears as small white, yellow, or off-white. Generally, a single dosage ranges anywhere from 200-500 milligrams and is sold for about $20 per dose. The drug is swallowed, snorted, injected, used rectally, or smoked.

Effects of Bath Salts

Effects may be felt with as little as 3-5 milligrams; however, the average dose ranges from 5 to 20 milligrams. Because the average package contains much more than the average dose, the risk of overdose is high. The effects of the drug take about 1.5 hours to take hold when ingested. Those who use bath salts via other means will experience the effects about 15 minutes after exposure. A person who uses bath salts will experience the effects for 3-4 hours. The person will experience a hard “crash,” also known as the “come down” after the high is over.

The effects of this synthetic drug are similar to those of drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the effects of bath salts are at least 10 times as powerful as cocaine. Although numerous ingredients may be present in bath salts, the most common is methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known by the acronym MDPV. Other common stimulants found in bath salts include mephedrone, methylone, and pyrovalerone.

MDPV is in the phenethylamine family. It has a similar chemical structure to cathinone, an alkaloid found in methamphetamine and the khat plant. Generally, bath salts with mephedrone put users more at risk for overdose.

Risks and Side Effects of Bath Salts

Side effects experienced by those who use bath salts include the following:

  • Sweating
  • Delusions
  • Nausea
  • Nosebleed
  • Seizures
  • Severe panic attacks
  • Self-mutilation
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicide
  • Breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue
  • Dehydration
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Tingling in extremities
  • Muscle spasms
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperthermia
  • Kidney failure
  • Tachycardia
  • Insomnia
  • Skin rash
  • Excessive teeth grinding
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Headache
  • Brain stem herniation
  • Chest pains
  • Sudden death

The worst effects of bath salts affect those who snort or inject the synthetic cathinone. It is possible to overdose from bath salts, and overdose potential is even greater via these routes.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Use?

Because this classification of drug is relatively new, all of the long-term side effects of synthetic cathinones are not known. However, it does appear that a person may experience hypertension and long-term tachycardia as a result of repeated use. Kidney damage or failure is possible.

The muscles connected to the bones may permanently break down. Liver damage may occur as well. Users may even develop drug-induced psychosis. The brain may swell, and parts of it may die or be permanently altered as a result of repeat exposure.

Who Uses Bath Salts?

Are Bath Salts Illegal?

Originally, bath salts were legal. Someone looking to purchase them could find them in head shops, convenience stores, and gas stations. They were found all over the Internet, with searches for bath salts accounting for 1.3 million search results in 2011.

When they were first sold, the dangerous effects of them were not known. They avoided regulations by labeling the packages with warnings like “not for human consumption.” The substances were labeled as “plant food,” “cellphone screen cleaner,” or “jewelry cleaner.”

In fact, in 2010 alone, poison control centers received 304 calls regarding exposure to synthetic cathinones. The number of calls related to these substances rose rapidly, with the number of calls reaching 6,138 in 2011. The number of calls spiked until June and has gradually declined since November 2011. In 2011 alone, there were 22,904 cases of bath salt use that resulted in emergency room visits.

Incidents related to bath salts and the number of calls to poison control grabbed the attention of law enforcement and government officials. States began regulating the substances. One prime example was in Marquette County, Michigan. In February 2011, the number of emergency admissions related to synthetic cathinones gained the attention of the Marquette County Health Department and led them to seize all bath salt products from a local store. Of the 35 hospital patients who received treatment after exposure to bath salts, 17 were admitted to the hospital and one died. Six of the patients admitted to having suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide after using bath salts.

Are Bath Salts Illegal?

Because of the severity of consequences associated with bath salts, on July 9, 2012, President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act – which is part of the FDA Safety and Innovation Act of 2012 – to criminalize the use of 26 types of synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones permanently. The drugs classify as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substance Act since they do not have any medical use. The law also made it so the DEA could place substances on the emergency scheduling list for up to 36 months.

Shortly after the introduction of bath salts, researchers developed drug testing to identify 14 of more than 80 chemicals that may be contained inside a single package of bath salts. As of 2016, a toxicology screening is able to detect about 40 of hundreds of compounds that could potentially be present in bath salts.

Since some of the chemicals found within these substances are not detectable, people abuse these substances and are still able to pass a drug test, making treatment for an overdose or other serious complications more difficult. As chemists continue to modify the chemical composition of synthetic cathinones to maneuver around current regulations, it makes it even easier for people to pass drug tests even after using bath salts.

Are Bath Salts Addictive?

Just like cocaine, bath salts are psychologically addictive. In fact, studies indicate that they may be more mentally addictive than methamphetamine. Studies conducted on synthetic cathinones show animals will self-administer the drug compulsively. Humans have reported strong cravings for the drug along with other symptoms of withdrawal, such as anxiety, depression, tremors, insomnia, and paranoia.

If someone is struggling with repeated use of bath salts, comprehensive addiction treatment is needed. With the right level of care, people can leave bath salt use in their past and embrace a sober, healthier future.