“Bath salts” are synthetic drugs that are very dangerous. Chemically, bath salts are known as synthetic cathinones because they resemble a natural chemical called cathinone that is found in the African khat shrub. While naturally occurring cathinone can act as a mild stimulant, synthetic cathinones are powerfully psychoactive “sympathomimetic” drugs, meaning that they activate the sympathetic “fight or flight” component of the nervous system by mimicking chemicals that act as stimulants or “uppers.” Synthetic cathinones are pharmacologically distinct from the naturally occurring cathinone in khat.
Synthetic cathinones, or bath salts, are a diverse group of chemicals that often act as psychoactive stimulants. Because their chemical structures can be easily manipulated in a lab, different types of bath salts may have different spectra of effects. Thus, it is impossible to describe an exact set of outcomes that can be applied to all bath salts, but generalizations can be made.
Bath salts were devised as a legal way to get around federal and state restrictions on illicit stimulants like methamphetamine and MDMA (which is often sold in an adulterated form as the street drug ‘ecstasy’). Because they are man-made, synthetic cathinones are easily modified in a lab. The consequence of this is that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been unable to identify a single chemical compound that can be banned and, as a result, many versions of bath salts remain legal and readily available in paraphernalia shops, novelty stores and even gas stations.
Importantly, synthetic cathinones that are sold as “bath salts” are unrelated to legitimate bath salts (e.g. Epsom salts) that are sold as additives to bath water. Synthetic cathinones are often sold as “legal highs,” “herbal highs” or “research chemicals” and are typically labeled “Not for human consumption.” Street names for synthetic cathinones include flakka, bloom, cloud nine, lunar wave, vanilla sky and white lightning.
Are Bath Salts Addictive?
The trouble with asking whether bath salts are addictive is that there is no single chemical compound that represents all bath salts. As a result, different types of bath salts can have different addictive properties and psychoactive effects. By definition, addiction is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior even when faced with serious adverse health and social consequences. Signs and symptoms of addiction include a preoccupation with obtaining and using bath salts, and can be physical and psychological.
It is very clear that some of the most commonly available synthetic cathinones have substantial risk for abuse, dependence and addiction. Specifically, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) has been identified as a drug that can have profound effects on the dopamine system in the brain, which underlies the development of addiction. MDPV was shown to be up to ten times more potent than cocaine, underscoring the substantial risks associated with its use.
While it cannot be said with all certainty that every synthetic cathinone structure is associated with addiction, MDPV and other common iterations (e.g. mephedrone and methylone) are associated with a high risk for abuse and the development of dependence and addiction.
People who have developed a dependence or addiction to bath salts will undergo physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when they reduce or quit taking bath salts as well. Withdrawal symptoms commonly include:
- Insomnia or altered sleep
Physical Symptoms of Bath Salts Addiction
Because synthetic cathinones are amphetamine-like psychoactive substances, they have similar physical symptoms as methamphetamine and other central nervous system stimulants do. Common physical symptoms associated with bath salts use include:
- Cardiovascular irregularities such as rapid heart rate and elevated blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Blurred vision
- Muscle cramps
- Clenched jaw/grinding teeth
- Abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Kidney damage
- Liver damage
- Dry eyes
- Skin rash
- Loss of appetite/anorexia
Dangerous, even lethal symptoms associated with acute use of bath salts may include:
- Cardiac arrest (heart attack)
- Respiratory failure
- Destruction of red blood cells (disseminated intravascular coagulation)
- Destruction of muscle tissue (rhabdomyolysis)
- Destruction of skin cells (necrotizing fasciitis)
- Serotonin syndrome
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
Most, but not all, of bath salts-related deaths are associated with co-use of other drugs or alcohol.
Psychological Symptoms of Bath Salts Addiction
Bath salts have become infamous as drugs that can turn users into cannibals. Synthetic cathinones are associated with serious psychological effects that can have devastating consequences for the person who took the bath salts as well as friends, family and even strangers.
Commonly reported psychological symptoms associated with bath salts use include:
- Agitation and anxiety
- Depersonalization (loss of touch with reality)
- Panic attacks
- Paranoia and paranoid delusions
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure)
- Dysphoria (a general sense of dissatisfaction or unease)
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Long term cognitive impairments
Bath Salts Addiction in Orlando, Florida
Florida bath salt incidents have repeatedly made international headlines for astonishingly violent and gruesome assaults and murders and are likely a substantial reason for a recent decrease in bath salts use among all demographics.
Although toxicology reports indicate that some of the most shocking reports of bath salts related atrocities were not necessarily directly caused by the use of synthetic cathinones, there is no doubt that bath salts can cause people who use them to behave erratically and even violently.
Bath Salts Addiction Statistics in Florida
Bath salts use in Florida has steadily declined since its height of popularity in 2014-2015. Use of bath salts in Florida peaked in 2015, when there were 223 deaths that were at least partially attributed to their consumption. In 2016, bath salts-related deaths dropped to 102 in Florida. Verified data for bath salt use, morbidity and mortality in Florida has not yet been published for 2017 and 2018.
Florida data matches nationwide data, which shows that emergency room visits related to use of bath salts have continued to decline since 2011. In spite of the declining prevalence of bath salts use, it bears repeating that these are profoundly dangerous synthetic drugs that can have devastating, even lethal consequences for both the person who uses them and the people they are in proximity to.
Data from the Monitoring the Future survey, which surveys high school students, has found that bath salt use among high schoolers across the country has remained low but relatively stable. Data indicate that bath salts use among high school students increased slightly between 2017 and 2018, from 0.5% to 0.7%, although this prevalence is lower than in 2013, when 0.9% of high school students reported having tried bath salts.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a bath salts use disorder, help is available. The experts at The Orlando Recovery Center provide comprehensive rehab programs that are proven to help people overcome substance use disorders and start down the road to long term recovery. Contact us today to learn how professional rehab can help you get your life back.
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