Bath salts are quite a controversial group of herbal designer drugs. The term derives from cases in which the supposedly “dead” drugs were re-dressed as bath salts. The bath salt products vary greatly in appearance, quality and price. Most likely they will not pass muster with your pharmacist.
Recently, an interesting article by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (“NIDA”), was released highlighting bath salt’s increasing popularity as a drug for recreational use. This report is part of the NIDA’s ongoing series of reports analyzing current trends in drug abuse and addiction. For example, in 2021, bath salt was the fifth most popular drug for those under the age of 21. Although this statistic is quite troubling, bath salt usage is not a new phenomenon.
There is no single reason why bath salts have risen in popularity as a recreational drug. It is believed that bath salts’ increasing appeal is due to their combination of two drugs: synthetic stimulants (also known as amphetamines) and natural calming elements like scented oils and essential oils. The popularity of bath salts is partially tied to recent trends in the growth of internet drug use, especially with online shopping becoming more commonplace. Additionally, there has been an increase in reported cases of snoring and other sleep disorders linked to snoring caused by use of synthetic stimulants such as mDPV.
MDPV (Monoamine oxidase type V) is a neurotransmitter abnormality found in the body. This condition is potentially life threatening and highly treatable in most cases. The bath salts intoxication is thought to be associated with high levels of dopamine released into the brain from stimulation of nerves and excitatory amino acid receptors located throughout the body. Other causes of bath salt (males) and snoring may also include excessive muscle relaxation, vasodilation and decreased blood pressure. While the exact mechanism that causes bath salts intoxication is not known, it is believed to occur when high concentrations of the substance are absorbed into the skin and enter the blood stream. The resulting imbalance in chemicals and nutrients leads to stimulation of nerves and increased blood flow to surrounding tissues.
Another possible cause of bath salt (males) or snoring is a khat plant, which has also been known to cause the body to produce dopamine. The khat plant is native to certain regions of Pakistan and Africa. In addition to causing dopamine, the khat plant may also cause the body to experience euphoria, increased sexual drive, a heightened state of alertness and increased muscular strength. This is similar to the effects of the popular designer drugs may produce. As with the other drugs mentioned, bath salt (males) and snoring are more common in younger men, while khat plant use is seen mostly in older men.
There are multiple possible side effects of bath salt use, including confusion and respiratory arrest. Dizziness, blurred vision, increased blood pressure, nausea, convulsions and increased risk of serious injury or death may occur as a result of high doses. Many of these side effects occur only after long and sustained bath salt use. Some of the less common side effects of bath salt use include confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, heart rate acceleration, blurred vision, increased respiratory rate, increased heart beat rate and diarrhea. These effects occur less frequently and do not generally require immediate medical treatment.
Although bath salts do not generally have addictive qualities, users may be susceptible to addiction if they abuse the substance excessively or for periods of time. The most serious health effects associated with bath salt use, especially if combined with alcohol, are increased blood pressure, cardiac arrest, coma and death. If these symptoms occur, the user should seek emergency care or immediate medical treatment from a physician. While the above side effects may occur in a relatively small number of users, the more pronounced and dangerous side effects of bath salt use should be seriously considered by any user who may be susceptible to them.
Bath salts can also be used as a “smart drug” with the potential for serious abuse, especially if mixing bath salts with other stimulant drugs like bath salts, marijuana and cocaine. Stimulant drugs like bath salts can increase alertness, enhance sensory perception, increase energy and enhance mood; the effects are similar to those of cocaine and other stimulants. Because bath salts mimic the effects of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine, users may believe that they are experiencing a “high,” when what they are really experiencing is a combination of prolonged exposure to the stimulant drugs like bath salts and other drugs with serotonergic properties, which cause the same physical and psychological reactions. When bath salt use begins to take an unhealthy toll on the body, users may begin to experiment with different drugs, such as heroin, prescription painkillers or sedatives to create the same “high.” Unfortunately, this often leads to even more dependency on these drugs than ever before and can ultimately result in overdose, addiction and death.