What Are Bath Salts?
Bath salts were implicated in almost 23,000 emergency room visits in 2011. Recent news accounts have also chronicled the dangers of this substance. For example, in 2012, actor Johnny Lewis allegedly took a form of bath salts called Smiles before he killed his elderly landlady and then fell or jumped to his death.
Bath salts are known by a variety of street names, including blizzard, blue silk, ivory wave, vanilla sky and white lightning. The drugs, which are often imported from Europe or China, come as a crystal-like substance that looks a lot like the conventional bath salts used to soften skin. Depending on the type, bath salts can be inexpensive in comparison to the cost of other drugs.
Related: Watch this U.S. Navy video -- BATH SALTS: It's not a fad...It's a NIGHTMARE.
Some experts have described bath salts as a cross between methamphetamines and acid. The name doesn’t describe a single drug; rather, it encompasses a group of chemically similar substances. Most bath salts contain both mephedrone, which is a stimulant, and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), which is a stimulant and psychoactive drug. Both substances are a manmade form of khat, an organic drug that’s illegal in the U.S. Recent research suggests that when mephedrone and MDPV are combined, each enhances the effects of the other drug.
The federal government has banned some of the substances used in bath salts. However, when one substance is banned, underground manufacturers adjust by changing the formulation to get around the regulations. This makes it challenging for law enforcement officials to fully enforce a ban on bath salts.
Signs of Bath Salt Use
As with most drugs, there are several telltale signs to watch for if you suspect someone is using bath salts. These may include:
- Extreme paranoia
- Intense hallucinations
- Dangerously high body temperature
- Aggression or hostility
- Increased heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Sleep problems
Some users develop a syndrome called “excited delirium.” MDPV boosts adrenaline-like hormones, which put the body into a heightened state of alert. This extreme overstimulation causes a spike in body temperature. It may also cause kidney failure and muscle deterioration. People who’ve experienced high body temperatures have been known to tear off their clothes in a desperate attempt to cool down.
Excited delirium also causes the more serious aggressive behaviors seen in some bath salt users. Individuals who use bath salts may act upon their feelings of fear, rage, and paranoia. In addition, the reaction pushes the body to send more oxygen to muscles, triggering a surge in physical strength. This explains why law enforcement officials sometimes aren’t able to subdue bath salt users by utilizing pepper sprays or stun guns. Suicidal thoughts and actions are also a significant risk for anyone who uses this dangerous drug.
Another danger of bath salts is that formulations may vary from one dose to the next. There’s no consistency that allows a user to safely gauge the amount of drug needed to get high. One hit can produce what the user believes is a pleasant high, while the next can plunge him into a dangerous excited delirium. The uncertain chemical makeup and ability to produce paranoia, aggression, and suicidal thoughts and actions make every hit a potentially dangerous one. Additionally, some ingredients aren’t apparent to health care or addiction professionals. This makes it harder for them to deliver emergency treatment to users who overdose, or to provide proper treatment during withdrawal.
An addiction to bath salts can develop quickly, sometimes after only a few uses. The cravings are intense and mirror those found in methamphetamine addicts. The strong urge to use can lead to repeated uncontrollable binges.
Since bath salts are relatively new, researchers haven’t yet determined the long-term impact of their abuse on the mind and body. However, it’s clear these drugs are dangerous, and their abuse requires treatment by skilled professionals.
Bath Salts Treatment
Drug rehab is essential, even if a person hasn’t yet developed an addiction to bath salts. Someone who takes bath salts is at risk every time he or she uses the drug. Detoxification, or detox, is the first step in the rehab process. The drug user will check into an inpatient facility, where a medical staff will monitor withdrawal. The addict will also receive medication, when needed, to manage symptoms and decrease any physical discomfort. Detoxing from bath salts can last for several days.
Once detox is complete, the next step it to start the therapy. The therapy process will help users find healthy ways to and prevent relapse. While there are outpatient treatment programs for bath salts abuse, many treatment programs take place in an inpatient or residential setting. This type of setting is particularly effective because it allows the addict to focus fully on recovery in a drug-free environment. During rehab, addiction specialists will administer intense therapy designed to help the addict recognize why he or she turned to drugs and learn techniques to help ensure long-term abstinence.
In addition to detox and individual therapy, other treatment options may include group therapy, support groups, and animal-assisted therapy such as equine therapy. Family therapy is also an important part of treatment, especially if the user is a teen or young adult. A therapist will help the family resolve the conflicts that contribute to drug use, as well as guide family members through healing in the aftermath of addiction. Family therapy lays the foundation for building stronger, healthier relationships that lower stress and make the addict less likely to relapse.
Bath salts are a dangerous substance. Those who abuse them may require drug rehab treatment. If you suspect a loved one is abusing them, please contact an addiction recovery center immediately. The next hit could be the one that plunges the user to rock bottom - or worse.