Bath salts are human-made stimulants that are chemically similar to methamphetamine and MDMA. These drugs contain one or more chemicals related to cathinone, a natural stimulant found in the khat plant.
Also known as synthetic cathinones, bath salts can cause severe intoxication. People high on these substances experience a range of physical, psychological and behavioral health problems, including hallucinations, paranoia and elevated body temperature. Some effects can lead to death.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has permanently banned 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and mephedrone, two chemical ingredients commonly found in bath salts. But a host of other dangerous chemicals can be used to make synthetic cathinones.
People typically abuse bath salts to experience euphoria and increased alertness. Synthetic cathinones increase dopamine levels in the brain, which triggers feelings of pleasure. The drug can also raise a person’s blood pressure and heart rate.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, MDPV is at least 10 times more powerful than cocaine. The high potency of bath salts can lead to a number of distressing effects on the body and mind.
These substances can produce short-term side effects that do not seriously damage a person’s health. But they can also lead to immediate, life-threatening health problems that require medical attention.
Short-term side effects of bath salts include:
Snorting or injecting synthetic cathinones can trigger the most severe effects. Serious side effects associated with bath salts include:
The stimulant effects of bath salts generally last about three to four hours, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Pharmacy & Therapeutics. But some individuals have symptoms that linger for two to three days.
Notably, these substances are associated with psychotic episodes that can result in violence. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, bath salts can cause unpredictable behaviors that may lead to homicidal or suicidal behavior.
The number of calls associated with synthetic cathinones reported to poison control centers in the United States rose rapidly from 2010 to 2011. Bath salts were involved in about 23,000 emergency department visits in 2011, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Research on the long-term effects of synthetic cathinones on the brain is limited. But prolonged use of bath salts has been associated with brain damage and an increased risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.
Other long-term problems associated with bath salt abuse include:
Regular use of bath salts can result in a severe substance use disorder. Addiction is a brain disease that causes people to engage in compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite knowing the consequences. Those addicted to synthetic cathinones need to take increasingly higher doses of the substance to achieve their desired high.
In a 2011 study published in the journal Addiction, 44.3 percent of 947 mephedrone users believed the drug was at least as addictive as cocaine. A different survey involving 100 mephedrone users indicated that about 22 percent of the participants developed strong cravings for the substance.
People experience withdrawal when they reduce or stop using a drug after continued use. Bath salts can produce withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, paranoia, sleeping problems and tremors.
Abusing bath salts can affect your psychological health. Individuals experiencing psychotic episodes can quickly become violent. Immediately call 911 if someone behaves violently or has breathing problems or seizures after using bath salts.
You can also call your local poison control center at 800-222-1222. An expert can provide instructions on how to assist someone who is high on synthetic cathinones.
If you are addicted to bath salts, seek professional treatment. At rehab facilities, addiction experts use evidence-based techniques to help clients quit synthetic cathinones, including flakka. The team of experts develops treatment plans that address each patient’s specific needs.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, behavioral treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy have shown effectiveness in treating bath salt addiction.
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