The term “bath salts” refers to an emerging family of drugs containing one or more synthetic chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant found naturally in the Khat plant. Bath salts are typically taken orally, inhaled, or injected, with the worst outcomes being associated with snorting or needle injection.
Bath salts typically take the form of a white or brown crystalline powder and are sold in small plastic or foil packages labeled “not for human consumption.” Sometimes also marketed as “plant food”—or, more recently, as “jewelry cleaner” or “phone screen cleaner”—they are sold online and in drug paraphernalia stores under a variety of brand names, such as “Ivory Wave,” “Bloom,” “Cloud Nine,” “Lunar Wave,” “Vanilla Sky,” “White Lightning,” and “Scarface.”
Signs & Symptoms
Users with the syndrome known as “excited delirium” from taking bath salts also may have dehydration, breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, and kidney failure. Intoxication from several synthetic cathinones including MDPV, mephedrone, methedrone, and butylone has proved fatal in several instances.
- Increased activity
- Breathing problems
- Chest pains
Effects of Use
Much is still unknown about how these substances affect the human brain, and each one may have somewhat different properties. Chemically, they are similar to amphetamines (such as methamphetamine) as well as to MDMA (ecstasy).
The energizing and often agitating effects reported in people who have taken bath salts are consistent with other drugs like amphetamines and cocaine that raise the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine in brain circuits regulating reward and movement. A surge in dopamine in these circuits causes feelings of euphoria and increased activity. A similar surge of the transmitter norepinephrine can raise heart rate and blood pressure. A recent study found that MDPV—the most common synthetic cathinone found in the blood and urine of patients admitted to emergency departments after bath salts ingestion—raises brain dopamine in the same manner as cocaine but is at least 10 times more potent.
Bath salts have been linked to an alarming surge in visits to emergency departments and poison control centers across the country. Common reactions reported for people who have needed medical attention after using bath salts include cardiac symptoms and psychiatric symptoms including paranoia, hallucinations, and panic attacks.