Bath Salts: An Emerging Danger

Bath salts-the drug, not the perfumed crystals you put in bath water-showed up just a few years ago. The synthetic powder is sold online and in drug paraphernalia stores under a variety of names, such as "Blue Silk," "Zoom," "Cloud Nine," and "Hurricane Charlie." But do not let the fun names fool you: This drug is extremely dangerous.

What Are Bath Salts?

Bath salts are a new family of drugs that contain synthetic chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant. They typically appear as white or brown powder and are sold in small plastic or foil packages labeled "not for human consumption." People who abuse these drugs swallow, inhale, or inject them.

How Do They Affect the Brain?

Much is still unknown about the chemicals found in these drugs, but they are similar to amphetamines (such as methamphetamine) as well as to MDMA (Ecstasy). So far, research has shown that the most common chemical found in the synthetic powder, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), works like cocaine by increasing the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, causing a feeling of euphoria and hyperactivity. However, MDPV is 10 times more potent than cocaine.

Bath salts may also raise the levels of serotonin, causing hallucinations. Mephedrone and methylone, two other chemicals often sold as bath salts, were found to raise serotonin in a way similar to MDMA.

What Are the Other Health Effects?

The synthetic chemicals in bath salts are very toxic and have been linked to increases in visits to emergency rooms and poison control centers across the country.

Abuse can cause the following physical and psychological symptoms:

  • Racing heart
  • Panic attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Chest pains
  • Kidney failure
  • Paranoia
  • Breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Psychotic and violent behavior
  • Death

What Are We Doing To Prevent Abuse?

Bath salts users have reported that the drugs trigger intense cravings (or a compulsive urge to use the drug again) and that they are highly addictive.

In response to rising abuse rates of this drug, President Obama signed into law the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, which bans MDPV, mephedrone, and other bath salts ingredients. However, drug manufacturers have responded by developing new versions of the drug that use ingredients that, while just as toxic, are not yet banned.

If you know someone who is abusing drugs, tell an adult or contact 1-800-662-HELP to find out how to get help for the person.

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