Bath salts (drug)

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Bath salts is a term used in North America to describe a number of recreational designer drugs.[1][2] The name derives from instances in which the drugs were sold disguised as true bath salts.[3][4][5] The white powder, granules, or crystals often resemble true bath salts such as Epsom salts, but are very different chemically. The drugs' packaging often states "not for human consumption" in an attempt to circumvent drug prohibition laws.[3] Bath salts have also been similarly disguised as plant food, hookah cleaner, and other products, despite only seeing regular distribution in shops selling drug paraphernalia.


Synthetic cathinones such as mephedrone, which are chemically similar to cathinone, naturally found in the plant Catha edulis (khat), were first synthesised in the 1920s.[5] They remained obscure until the first decade of the 21st century, when underground chemists rediscovered them and began to use them in designer drugs, as the compounds were legal in many jurisdictions.[5][6] In 2009 and 2010 there was a significant rise in the abuse of synthetic cathinones, initially in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, and subsequently in the US. Drugs marketed as "bath salts" first came to the attention of authorities in the US in 2010 after reports were made to US poison centres.[4] In Europe, the drugs were predominantly purchased from websites, but in the US they were mainly sold in small independent stores such as gas stations and head shops.[4] In the US, this often made them easier to obtain than cigarettes and alcohol.[4] Bath salts have also been sold online in small packets; some of the brand names used are "Purple Wave," "Zoom," and "Cloud Nine."[7]

Hundreds of other designer drugs or "legal highs" have been reported, including artificial chemicals such as synthetic cannabis and semi-synthetic substances such as methylhexaneamine.[8] These drugs are primarily developed to avoid being controlled by laws against illegal drugs, thus giving them the label of designer drugs.[8]

The number of calls to poison centers concerning "bath salts" rose from 304 in 2010 to 6,138 in 2011, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. More than 1,000 calls had been made in 2012 by June.[7]


Pharmacologically, bath salts usually contain a cathinone, typically methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), methylone or mephedrone; however, the chemical composition varies widely[4][9] and products labeled with the same name may also contain derivatives of pyrovalerone or pipradrol. In Europe the main synthetic cathinone is mephedrone, whereas in the US MDPV is more common.[4]

Very little is known about how bath salts interact with the brain and how they are metabolised by the body. Scientists are inclined to believe that bath salts have a powerful addictive potential and can increase users' tolerance.[5][10] They are similar to amphetamines in that they cause stimulant effects by increasing the concentration of monoamines such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in synapses.[5][11] They are generally less able to cross the blood brain barrier than amphetamines due to the presence of a beta-keto group that increases the compound's polarity.[5]


Bath salts can be ingested, snorted, smoked, or injected. Injection is especially ill-advised as these products rarely list ingredients, let alone dosage. Bath salts are known to be detrimental to human health and have been known to cause hallucinations.[12]

Health issues

Users of bath salts have reported experiencing symptoms including headache, heart palpitations, nausea, and cold fingers.[13] Hallucinations, paranoia, and panic attacks have also been reported,[13] and news media have reported associations with violent behavior,[14] heart attack, kidney failure, liver failure, suicide, an increased tolerance for pain,[3] dehydration, and breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue.[15]

Contrary to popular belief, investigators found no connection to bath salts in the Miami cannibal attack.[16]

Visual symptoms similar to those of stimulant overdoses include dilated pupils, involuntary muscle movement, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure.[17][18]

Interaction with alcohol

Bath salts are very often consumed concurrently with alcohol. A 2015 study[19] has investigated the interrelation between mephedrone and alcohol, focusing on psychostimulant and rewarding effects. It showed that alcohol, at low (non stimulant) doses, significantly enhances the psychostimulant effects of mephedrone. This effect is mediated by an increase in synaptic dopamine, as haloperidol, but not ketanserin, was capable of blocking the potentiation by alcohol. Similarly, the rewarding properties of mephedrone were also notably enhanced by a low non-rewarding dose of alcohol.


MDPV cannot be smelled by detection dogs[3] and will not be found in typical urinalysis,[20] although they can be detected in urine and hair analyses using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.[21][22] Distributors may disguise the drug as everyday substances such as fertilizer or insect repellent.[3][23]


Little is known about how many people use bath salts.[5] In the UK, mephedrone, commonly known as MCAT, is the fourth most commonly used drug among nightclub goers after cannabis, MDMA and cocaine.[5] Based on reports to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, use of bath salts in the US is thought to have increased significantly between 2010 and 2011.[5] The increase in use is thought to result from their widespread availability, undetectability on many drug tests, and sensationalist media coverage.[9]

Users tend to range from ages 15–55 with the average being age 28.[17]

Legal status

The drug policy of Canada is that during the fall of 2012, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) will be categorised as a schedule I substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, placing it in the same category as heroin and cocaine.[3] Mephedrone and methylone are already illegal in Canada and most of the United States.[3]

In the United Kingdom, all substituted cathinones were made illegal in April 2010,[24][25] under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, but other designer drugs such as naphyrone appeared soon after[26] and some products described as legal contained illegal compounds.[27] To avoid being controlled by the Medicines Act, designer drugs such as mephedrone have been described as "bath salts", or other misnomers such as "plant food" despite the compounds having no history of being used for these purposes.[13][28][29]

The Federal drug policy of the United States reflects the fact that "bath salts" are illegal in at least 41 states, with pending legislation in others.[30] Prior to the compounds being made illegal, mephedrone, methylone, and MDPV were marketed as bath salts.[31] The "bath salt" name and labels that say "not for human consumption" are an attempt to skirt the Federal Analog Act, which forbids selling drugs that are substantially similar to drugs already classified for human use.[31][32][33] In July 2012, President Barack Obama signed a bill that amended the Federal drug policy of the United States to ban "bath salts".[34] New York State banned the sale and distribution of the drug on May 23, 2011.[35]

See also


  1. "DEA: Chemicals Used in "Bath Salts" Now Under Federal Control and Regulation". Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  2. "Situation Report. Synthetic Cathinones (Bath Salts): An Emerging Domestic Threat" (PDF). United States Department of Justice: National Drug Intelligence Center. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Black, Matthew (25 June 2012). "What are 'bath salts'? A look at Canada's newest illegal drug". CBC News. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Spiller HA, Ryan ML, Weston RG, Jansen J (2011). "Clinical experience with and analytical confirmation of "bath salts" and "legal highs" (synthetic cathinones) in the United States". Clinical Toxicology. 49 (6): 499–505. PMID 21824061. doi:10.3109/15563650.2011.590812. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Coppola M, Mondola R; Mondola (2012). "Synthetic cathinones: Chemistry, pharmacology and toxicology of a new class of designer drugs of abuse marketed as "bath salts" or "plant food"". Toxicology Letters. 211 (2): 144–149. PMID 22459606. doi:10.1016/j.toxlet.2012.03.009. 
  6. Morris, H. (5 April 2010). "Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia. Mephedrone: the phantom menace". Vice Magazine. Archived from the original on 3 November 2011. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Dolak, Kevin (5 June 2012). "'Bath Salts': Use of Dangerous Drug Increasing Across U.S.". ABC News: Good Morning America. Retrieved 28 December 2013.  (Speaker Icon.svg Page will play audio when loaded)
  8. 8.0 8.1 McElrath, K; O'Neill, C (March 2011). "Experiences with mephedrone pre- and post-legislative controls: perceptions of safety and sources of supply". The International Journal on Drug Policy. 22 (2): 120–7. PMID 21242082. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2010.11.001. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Prosser JM, Nelson LS (2011). "The Toxicology of Bath Salts: A Review of Synthetic Cathinones". Journal of Medical Toxicology. 8 (1): 33–42. PMC 3550219Freely accessible. PMID 22108839. doi:10.1007/s13181-011-0193-z. 
  10. Ross, EA; Watson, M; Goldberger, B (8 September 2011). ""Bath Salts" Intoxication". The New England Journal of Medicine. 365 (10): 967–968. PMID 21899474. doi:10.1056/NEJMc1107097. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  11. Kehr, J.; Ichinose, F.; Yoshitake, S.; Goiny, M.; Sievertsson, T.; Nyberg, F.; Yoshitake, T. (April 2011). "Mephedrone, compared to MDMA (ecstasy) and amphetamine, rapidly increases both dopamine and serotonin levels in nucleus accumbens of awake rats". British Journal of Pharmacology. 164 (8): 1949–58. PMC 3246659Freely accessible. PMID 21615721. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01499.x. 
  12. "Europol–EMCDDA Joint Report on a new psychoactive substance: 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone)" (PDF). European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. 27 May 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 April 2011. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Reed, Jim (13 January 2010). "Clubbers are 'turning to new legal high mephedrone'". BBC News. Retrieved 4 July 2010. 
  14. Dolak, Kevin (5 June 2012). "'Bath Salts': Use of Dangerous Drug Increasing Across U.S.". ABC News. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  15. "DrugFacts: Synthetic Cathinones ('Bath Salts')". National Institute on Drug Abuse. November 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2013. 
  16. ""Lab tests detected only marijuana in the system of a Florida man shot while chewing another man's face, the medical examiner said Tuesday, ruling out other street drugs including the components typically found in the stimulants known as bath salts."Medical examiner rules out bath salts in Miami face-chewing attack". Associated Press. June 27, 2012. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Miller, Michael C. (September 2011). "Ask the Doctor: Bath salts—a new way to get high?". Harvard Mental Health Letter. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
    Q. I heard a news story about people using bath salts to get high. How is that possible? My husband and I have two teenagers. Should we talk with them about this?

    A. The "bath salts" you've heard about have nothing to do with the type that people add to water and use while soaking in a tub. These newer bath salts are designer drugs that circumvent the laws governing controlled or illegal substances, but can be used to get high.

    The active chemicals in these salts — mephedrone, pyrovalerone, or methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) — all have stimulant properties. They are …
      (contains additional text)
  18. Sivagnanam G. (3 February 2012). "News and Views: 'Drug abuse' of a different 'wave' length". Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics. 3 (1): 85–86. doi:10.4103/0976-500x.92493. Retrieved 28 December 2013. (Registration required (help)).  (contains additional text)
  19. Ciudad-Roberts, Andrés; Camarasa, Jorge; Ciudad, Carlos J.; Pubill, David; Escubedo, Elena (2015). "Alcohol enhances the psychostimulant and conditioning effects of mephedrone in adolescent mice; postulation of unique roles of D receptors and BDNF in place preference acquisition". British Journal of Pharmacology. 172: n/a–n/a. doi:10.1111/bph.13266. 
  20. Winder, G. S.; Stern, N.; Hosanagar, A. (March 2012). "Are "Bath Salts" the next generation of stimulant abuse?". J Subst Abuse Treat. 44 (1): 42–45. PMID 22445773. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2012.02.003. 
  21. Baselt, R. (2011). Disposition of Toxic Drugs and Chemicals in Man (PDF) (9th ed.). Seal Beach, CA: Biomedical Publications. pp. 992–993. 
  22. Rust KY, Baumgartner MR, Dally AM, Kraemer T; Baumgartner; Dally; Kraemer (2012). "Prevalence of new psychoactive substances: A retrospective study in hair". Drug Testing and Analysis. 4 (6): 402–408. PMID 22522922. doi:10.1002/dta.1338. 
  23. "'Bath salts,' synthetic drugs targeted in Schneiderman lawsuits". Long Island Newsday. 10 July 2012. Archived from the original on 28 December 2013. Retrieved 18 December 2013. 
  24. "BBC – Democracy Live – MPs move to ban mephedrone". BBC News. 7 April 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  25. "The Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) (England, Wales and Scotland) Regulations 2010 No. 1144". Office of Public Sector Information. 16 April 2010. Archived from the original on 10 February 2011. 
  26. "NRG-1 'legal high' drug is banned". BBC News. 12 July 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  27. Brandt, SD; Sumnall, HR; Measham, F; Cole, J (July 2010). "Second generation mephedrone – The confusing case of NRG-1". British Medical Journal. 341: c3564. PMID 20605894. doi:10.1136/bmj.c3564. 
  28. "Consideration of the Cathinones" (PDF). Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. 31 March 2010. p. 25. Retrieved 1 April 2010. 
  29. "Police warning over 'bubble' drug". BBC News. 20 November 2009. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  30. "Synthetic Drug Threats". National Conference of State Legislatures. 28 November 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  31. 31.0 31.1 Abby Goodnough, Katie Zezima (16 July 2011). "An Alarming New Stimulant, Legal in Many States". New York Times. Retrieved 15 January 2012. 
  32. Victoria Cumbow (6 February 2011). "Synthetic form of cocaine and methamphetamine being packaged as bath salts". The Huntsville Times. Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  33. "Reports: Miami 'zombie' attacker may have been using 'bath salts'". CNN. 29 May 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  34. Patience Haggin (10 July 2012). "Obama Signs Federal Ban on 'Bath Salt' Drugs". Time. Newsfeed. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  35. "New York State Health Commissioner Bans Sale and Distribution of Dangerous Substances Marketed as Bath Salts" (Press release). New York State Department of Health. 23 May 2011. Retrieved 26 December 2012. New York State Commissioner of Health Nirav R. Shah, M.D. today issued a Commissioner's Order to ban the sale and distribution of dangerous amphetamine-type substances marketed as "bath salts" that are sold over-the-counter and have resulted in hundreds of hospitalizations nationwide. 

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