Upon hitting the scene around 2010, the over-the-counter drugs known as “bath salts” created a disturbing wave of addiction, death and alarming side effects such as erratic violent and psychotic behavior. A 2012 law banned the sale of these products, but poison control centers continue to report exposure around the United States.
Take a look on the container, and you’ll likely read “not for human consumption.” The group of products that came to be known as bath salts were marketed as household helpers – things like plant food and jewelry cleaner. But distributed to tobacco shops and sold at the counter, the companies behind these products had a clear goal in mind. Soon after hitting the shelves in 2010, bath salts became a trendy and legal way to get high, particularly among young people.
31 Bath salt ingredients were banned in the US in 2012.
A variety of chemicals could be found in a typical container, and the term “bath salts” came to describe a range of products with different ingredients. The common thread was amphetamine-like stimulants – synthetics like mephedrone and MDPV, and the plant-based cathinone. When ingested, these chemicals could pack a punch 10 times the intensity of cocaine. Found in a white or brown crystalline powder, the drugs are usually eaten, snorted or injected.
Not long after the trend hit, cases of extreme side effects flooded the lines of poison control centers, and emergency rooms regularly saw patients overdosing on these strange new drugs. It all resulted in an emergency ban on the products in 2011, and then the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act in 2012, which outlawed 31 ingredients used to make bath salts. Milder versions of the products still exist, though, and many people make the drugs out of household products. In 2015, nearly 600 cases were reported to poison control centers.
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There are countless horror stories about bath salts use. People sometimes experience intense, unpredictable bouts of psychosis while under the influence. This can involve terrifying hallucinations, bursts of violence, and a lost sense of self.
It felt so evil. It felt like the darkest, evilest thing imaginable.
People sometimes claim to see the devil, or say they feel possessed. In 2015, a woman put her infant son in a ditch after reportedly injecting bath salts, claiming she was trying to baptize him after hearing voices.
In addition to the severe health risks of bath salts, the potential for these extreme reactions make anyone taking the drugs a danger to themselves and others.
Those who get involved with bath salts often develop a drug addiction. One study, which observed MDPV’s effects on rats, suggests these drugs may be more addictive than meth.
“I don’t even know why it was so addicting to me, but I had to just keep doing it,” said “I pretty much stopped doing everything. I stopped going to my ballet class; I stopped going to work.”
Hanna’s experience with bath salts went from stimulation to hallucinations to eventually hearing voices that followed her everywhere. She started hurting herself, picking at bugs and spiders that she imagined, and became afraid to leave her room or look in the mirror.
10 Times stronger than cocaine.
“I thought I had died and went to hell,” Hanna said. “There was just no escape.”
She underwent treatment at a nearby rehab center, and was able to overcome the addiction.
Bath salts cause a burst of dopamine, similar to that of ecstasy or cocaine, which can elevate the heart rate to dangerous levels. Patients who seek medical attention after using bath salts report chest pain and other cardiac issues. Numerous deaths also have been reported.
Users feel an uncontrollable energy and agitation. Some patients suffered from “excited delirium,” which involves dehydration, breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, and kidney failure.
Other side effects can include:
Because the term bath salts refers to a wide range of products, side effects may vary. Some side effects, such as nausea or vomiting, may disappear after a few hours or days. Other side effects, such as paranoia, may require counseling and therapy. Little is known about the long-term side effects of bath salts, but the drugs are similar to stimulants that cause addiction, such as cocaine and Ecstasy.
Treating an addiction to bath salts may require a stay in a treatment facility. No established treatment regimen exists for bath salts addiction. However, standard approaches to addiction treatment, such as supervised detox and behavioral therapy, are effective for most types of drug addiction.