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Not to be confused with products like Epsom salt that many people use for bathing, bath salts is the term given to synthetic cathinones, a class of drugs that contain one or more human-made chemicals related to cathinone. Cathinone is a naturally occurring stimulant found in the leaves of the khat plant grown in southern Arabia and East Africa. The most common laboratory-made cathinones in bath salts include methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone), and 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylcathinone (methylone), among others. Compared to the effects of products made using the khat plant, the lab-made cathinones are much more potent and can cause numerous detrimental effects.
Bath salts are central nervous stimulants, which means they stimulate the brain and cause the hastening of both mental and physical processes. Designed to mimic the effects produced by cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy), synthetic cathinones are marketed as cheap substitutes for the said stimulant drugs. Users can purchase them online, in head shops, and convenience stores as plant food, glass cleaner, jewelry cleaner, and other seemingly harmless compounds, so they can be sold over the counter and evade detection by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or local police.
Synthetic cathinones are abused for their desirable effects, such as feelings of euphoria, improved alertness, and increased libido. However, their use has been linked with tens of thousands of emergency department visits in the United States. The physical, mental, and addictive consequences of their use have also been reported as these synthetic stimulants continue to increase in popularity. If you want to know more about bath salts, read on. This piece will tackle synthetic cathinones’ methods of use, mechanism of action, health effects, signs of abuse, and rehabilitation and treatment options, among others.
A Brief History of Bath Salts
Synthetic cathinones were first produced in the 1920s. By 1969, the German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim patented MDPV, but it was never marketed. MDVP was seemingly forgotten until the late 1990s, when an underground chemist published the formulation and powerful effects of MDPV on the now defunct, recreational drug-use website, The Hive. From then on, the use of bath salts increased considerably, but their popularity among clubbers in Europe and elsewhere happened only in the mid-2000s.
Users reported feelings of euphoria, talkativeness, as well as increased alertness and sexual desire, along with multiple unpleasant symptoms like irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, and generalized anxiety. Those who snorted bath salts described experiencing much more extreme and strange behaviors, such as severe aggression, self-mutilation, wild displays of incredible physical strength, and persistent paranoid psychosis. Reports of violence and crimes associated with bath salts soon dominated the news and headlines around the world.
The drastic rise of synthetic cathinones usage forced law enforcement agencies and other regulatory bodies to take action and address the growing problem. In 2008, Israel became the first nation to ban MDPV. Several European countries eventually followed suit. In October 2011, the DEA banned the three most common active ingredients in bath salts—MDPV, mephedrone, and methylone.
The following year, the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act (SDAPA) was passed in the country, classifying several synthetic substances under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. SDAPA placed mephedrone and MDPV in the most restrictive category of controlled substances, which means they cannot be sold for any reason. Methylone and ten other synthetic cathinones were also permanently controlled by the DEA.
How Are Bath Salts Used?
Bath salts are usually manufactured and distributed in white or brown crystal-like powder form and sold in small packages. Users of such substances frequently practice the following methods of administration to experience effects similar to those induced by amphetamine:
- Keying. The person scoops or spoons the powder using a key and then places the key near the nostril for snorting or inhaling.
- Bombing. The act of ingesting or swallowing the powder by rolling it up in a piece of cigarette paper.
Besides snorting and swallowing, some users also smoke bath salts, combine them with food/drinks, or dissolve them in a liquid so that they can inject the solution directly into the veins or muscles using a syringe. Others apply the drug to their mucus membranes by using the bath salt solution as eye drops or nasal spray. Synthetic cathinones can also be taken rectally or by rubbing the powder onto the gums.
How Do Bath Salts Work in the Human Body?
Much is still unknown about how the different chemicals in bath salts affect the brain. However, researchers do know that synthetic cathinones are chemically comparable to cocaine, amphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy). However, it is worth pointing out that MDPV, one of the active ingredients in bath salts, acts similarly to cocaine but is at least ten times more potent.
Individuals who use bath salts seek desirable effects, such as euphoria, alertness, sexual performance, increased sociability, and mental alertness. They start by using a small amount. However, once they experience the pleasurable effects, users increase the dosage to maintain the feeling until they intake an increasingly large dose in one sitting or over a short period.
When the brain is flooded by a high dose of bath salts, the nervous system gets overloaded with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked with pleasure and reward, among others. Although a flood of dopamine can cause temporary euphoric feelings, it can also put the body into serious overdrive. As a result, the user suffers from paranoia, panic attacks, mood swings, and reckless behavior. The person’s body temperature also rises abnormally (hyperthermia) because the body cannot disperse the heat fast enough to cool it down. Perhaps the combination of all these unpleasant effects is the reason why many users call their experience with bath salts “dark hell.”
A large amount of stimulants in the brain also causes insomnia. Sleep deprivation causes increased hormone levels and a wide range of undesirable consequences, which further intensifies the harmful effects of bath salts in the mind and body.
What Are the Immediate and Long-Term Effects of Bath Salts Abuse?
People who use bath salts may experience feelings of intense happiness, increased friendliness, elevated mood, and increased libido. Synthetic cathinones also produce a wide range of unpleasant physical and psychological effects, which include the following:
- Increased heart rate
- Reduced muscle and body control
- Increased blood pressure and body temperature
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Heart attack
- Agitation and irritability
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts
- Distorted sense of reality
- Cloudy thinking
- Mood disturbances
Bath salts users may also suffer from “excited delirium” or extreme agitation, paranoia, and violent behavior. When this happens, dehydration, skeletal muscle damage, and renal failure usually follow, leading to multiple organ failure and death.
Long-term abuse of synthetic cathinones may also cause users to hallucinate, hear voices, feel paranoid, and develop a psychosis similar to schizophrenia. Bath salts can also cause addiction. Those who become addicted may be compelled to do whatever it takes to keep getting “high” from the consumption of bath salts.
Signs of Bath Salts Use Disorder
Perhaps you are concerned about a family member using bath salts, and you want to be sure if they are already suffering from addictive behaviors. If so, you may want to pay attention to the following diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V):
- Using bath salts in higher dosage or for a longer duration than initially intended
- Wishing to cut down or cease using the drug, but not being able to
- Spending considerable time getting, using, or recovering from substance use
- Experiencing intense desire to use bath salts
- Failing to fulfill work, domestic, and other responsibilities because of using bath salts
- Continuing to use bath salts, even if the habit is causing relationship issues
- Giving up important family, work, and social activities because of drug use
- Continuing the use of bath salts, even if the bad habit is putting their lives in danger
- Abusing bath salts over and over, even if they know that the drug use is making their physical and psychological issues much worse
- Needing to use more of the substance to experience the desired effect (tolerance)
- Experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using bath salts
If your loved one exhibits at least two of the symptoms above, that could mean a mild substance use disorder. The presence of four or five of these warning signs suggests a moderate substance use disorder, while six or more symptoms indicate a severe addiction.
Rehab and Treatment for Bath Salts Use Disorder
The treatment protocol for addiction to synthetic cathinones is similar to that of other substance use disorders. After the initial assessment, the user will undergo the detoxification process. Because taking bath salts causes unpleasant and severe withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, tremors, difficulty sleeping, and paranoia, it is best for the person to enroll in an inpatient withdrawal management program. That way, they can receive round-the-clock care and medications like benzodiazepines to manage or reduce the severity of specific withdrawal symptoms.
After detox, the person in recovery can then receive formal treatment in an inpatient or outpatient addiction rehabilitation facility. If the individual has severe substance use disorder, experiences a relapse after receiving outpatient care, or has a co-occurring mental health condition, they probably require inpatient or residential care. Inpatient addiction rehab facilities offer a higher level of structure, support, and monitoring to help individuals overcome severe substance use disorders. For someone with a mild form of bath salts dependency, outpatient care may suffice provided that the person religiously attends their therapy sessions and follows the terms of their recovery program.
Although there is still no federally approved drug to treat synthetic cathinone addiction per se, treatment specialists may give certain medications to manage specific physical and psychological symptoms associated with substance use. Inpatient and outpatient rehabs may also administer the following types of behavioral therapies to treat bath salts use disorder:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This behavioral approach helps the person in recovery to determine and correct unhealthy behavioral patterns. CBT also improves the person’s self-control by helping them develop effective coping mechanisms.
Contingency Management/Motivational Incentives
This therapeutic technique makes use of tangible rewards to reinforce positive behaviors. For example, the person in recovery may receive a movie pass, food item, or other goods/services for every drug-free urine sample.
Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)
This counseling approach aims to increase the person’s motivation and desire to change. MET has been found effective for engaging people and making them more committed to treatment.
Another essential component of treating bath salts use disorder is social support. Encouragement and assistance from family, friends, and relatives can significantly help the person in their recovery journey. Being involved in support groups is also beneficial to maintaining long-term abstinence because peer support can reduce feelings of isolation, anxiety, distress, and other emotions that trigger substance use.
Get the Help You Need
Like other designer drugs, bath salts may be perceived as safe because they are readily available online, but using them can be extremely dangerous. As discussed above, abusing bath salts can cause multiple adverse physical and psychological effects that can never be ignored. In fact, using bath salts has been associated with numerous news reports involving violence, suicide, and bizarre behavior. That is why it’s best to seek help as soon as possible if you or someone you love suffers from addiction to synthetic cathinones.
There is no time to waste. Find a trustworthy drug and alcohol rehab facility that can accompany you in your recovery journey with the help of Better Addiction Care (BAC). Call BAC for free advice on the right addiction treatment center that can cater to your needs. You can also browse through their comprehensive directory of the most reputable treatment providers to know your options. Find the resources you need to overcome bath salts use disorder and bring your life back on track with the help of Better Addiction Care.
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