Bath Salts and Related Synthetic Stimulants

What are they?

Image Credit: Chris Knight, Associated Press

This group of chemicals takes many shapes and forms.   Called “the new cocaine” by some, they produce a stimulant-like high much like amphetamines, cocaine, and ecstacy.  There are over 35 known chemicals in this group with more being synthesized all the time.

What do they look like?

The synthetic stimulants are most commonly sold as a white powder.  They have been marketed as bath salts, plant food, collector’s items, and even cell phone screen scratch remover.  The products were never intended to be used for their labeled purpose but were marketed this way as a method to dodge the law.

Are they really legal?

Several state and federal laws have recently been passed banning these chemicals (effective September 2011).  The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, signed into law in July 2012, included bath salt compounds in it’s list.  They are now considered Schedule I substances, meaning they have no accepted medical use and a high abuse potential.  They now have the same legal status as older street drugs like methamphetamine and ecstacy.

Why do people use them?

Users of these chemicals seek their intense high, euphoria, and extreme increases in energy.  These products are most commonly taken intranasally, smoked, or ingested.

How do they work?

These compounds mimic cocaine or methamphetamine in the brain, but they have a wide array of other adverse effects.

What can they cause?

Bath salt compounds can cause euphoria, agitation, hallucinations, and aggressiveness.  Other effects on the body include:

  • Uncontrolled blood pressure leading to chest pain and heart problems
  • Arrhythmias
  • Paranoia and insomnia
  • Anorexia
  • Muscle tremor and spasms
  • Trouble breathing
  • Intense sweating

How common are they?

These chemicals have become a major concern over the last several years.  Visits to the emergency department due to medical and phychiatric side effects from these compounds have been increasing drastically from 303 in 2010 to 4,720 in 2011.  Poison centers across the US have continued to receive emergency calls through 2012 about these substances despite recent bans.  Though large crackdowns have surely decreased availability, these drugs can still be purchased on the internet and imported from other countries.

Source: AAPCC