Bath salts are a synthetic drug being sold with street names like Bloom, Cloud Nine, or Vanilla Sky. In harsh contrast to their innocent labeling, the effects of the drug are often bizarre and terrifying for those who use it. Bath salts have caused headlines around the country with reports of those taking them including seeing intense hallucinations and in many cases harming themselves or others.
In an interview with PBS Newshour, Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, said patients were showing up in emergency rooms violent and hallucinating, “These guys were seeing things like monsters, demons and aliens, and those were consistent terms,” Ryan said. “We didn’t ask, ‘Are you seeing monsters and aliens?’ They were telling us that.”
At the root of bath salts is Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV; a psychoactive drug with stimulant properties, which also acts to prevent removal of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine from the synapse. In simple terms, this means that bath salts work to first flood the brain with dopamine and then block reuptake. Other drugs like meth will cause dopamine surges, cocaine will block reuptake, but only bath salts cause both to happen at the same time. It’s a dangerous combination with long term effects.
In a recent study at Scripps Research Institute, researchers discovered that the active ingredient in bath salts, MDPV, is far more addictive than methamphetamine, which is considered to be one of the most addictive substances known.
In the study, rats were given the option to self-administer doses of meth or MDPV (bath salts) with a lever push. When the researchers increased the number of pushes it took to get a dose, they found that the rats would average about 60 attempts for meth, but would attempt 600 to 3,000 lever pushes to get another dose of MDPV. In essence, rats were willing to work much much harder to get at MDPV.
This finding mirrors the claims of those who have taken bath salts. Many users of the drug have said that when they finally come off of it, they are hit with intense cravings to do the drug again, often in spite of terrifying or negative experiences they may have had.
While many of the ingredients used to make bath salts have been banned, drugmakers have tweaked the formulas, finding ways to get around the laws. This means that there is no set formula for the drug, and no reliable way to know what it contains or even what constitutes a “dose.” Tests have shown that some packages of bath salts contained 17 milligrams of MDPV while others contained over 2,000 milligrams.
Bath salts are highly addictive, have the potential to cause permanent damage to the brains of those who consume them, and can stay in a person’s system for days or even weeks. So despite the benign name, bath salts are a highly dangerous drug that hits hard and doesn’t let go.