Bath salts — not to be confused with typical bathing salts like epsom salt, used for soaking in the bathtub — are synthetic drugs popularized in South Florida and elsewhere in the U.S. The substance is related to cathinone. Bath salts are stimulant drugs, and mirror similar effects to those as amphetamines, which are also stimulants. The substance is derived from the khat plant, which is native to Asia, and is structurally similar to cathinone (found in methamphetamine).
Bath salts are ten times more potent than cocaine. However, because they are synthesized, their chemical compositions are typically unstable and may vary widely from batch to batch. The variation in their composition and synthesis makes it difficult to measure how much of certain elements found in bath salts — putting users at risk for overdose or adverse side effects, which may incur permanent physical and psychological damage.
Bath salts were recently available in some convenience stores along with other synthetic drugs, like K2 and flakka, but regulations have made it illegal to sell them.
Bath salts are typically taken orally, snorted or injected intravenously. Frequent users of bath salts begin to develop a tolerance to the substance, just as with any other addictive drug. The more you use bath salts, the more likely subsequent physical and psychological addictions. Because bath salts affect the way dopamine is distributed throughout the brain, the euphoric effect makes it almost impossible to moderate use.
When you consume bath salts, your brain releases a surge of dopamine, which is responsible for making you feel fulfilled, rewarded, and happy. With continued use, your natural ability to produce dopamine is compromised, and you no longer feel rewarded, or happy in circumstances that would warrant those emotions. In this case, it’s necessary to take bath salts just to feel normal.
Continued use and abuse of bath salts causes permanent damage to the brain’s neurotransmitters, and compromises its ability to produce dopamine.
In addition to destroying dopamine neurotransmitters, bath salts also have adverse effects on healthy serotonin levels, which are responsible for helping us to manage our moods. Bath salts damage serotonin neurotransmitters in much the same way as they do for dopamine.
Bath salts cause its users to hallucinate, inducing “excited delirium,” as well as erratic behavior, undue aggressiveness, violence and hallucinations. Users with untreated bath salt disorders endanger themselves and those around them, because many are under the delusion their hallucinations are trying to hurt them.
Health effects of bath salts include:
Overdose from bath salts are marked by manic behavioral changes in users. Depending upon consumption — whether smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally — overdose may be instant, or delayed.
Overdoses have been reported from three to five milligrams, but packets of bath salts may contain five to 20 milligrams of the addictive substance. If consumed orally, peak “highs” show themselves approximately one and a half hours after consuming bath salts. The high from bath salts can last three to four hours, followed by a crash, which may persist up to four hours.
When overdosing, users experienced increased heart rates, high blood pressure, hyperthermia, seizures without a history of epilepsy and death. Many overdosing on bath salts will experience delirium, acute paranoia, hallucinations, self mutilation, suicide attempts, panic attacks, and unprovoked acts of violence. Also, permanent kidney damage may result from rhabdomyolysis — direct or indirect muscle injury, resulting from muscle fiber decay and subsequent release into the bloodstream.
Currently, emergency medical personnel can only manage the symptoms of a bath salt overdose. There are no known antidotes for the condition.
Even though bath salts are a synthetic stimulant drug, quitting them abruptly can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Many who undergo withdrawal treatment need to be weaned off of bath salts before abstaining from the substance entirely, to ensure the process is safe. Medically assisted drug detox helps patients enroll into withdrawal to avoid the following common symptoms of bath salt withdrawal.
Bath salts are extremely toxic. Getting help for bath salt abuse quickly is essential to stave off permanent damage and prevent co-occurring disorder to develop.
During detoxification, patients undergo medically assisted drug addiction treatment and will be prescribed sedatives to help with the adverse effects of bath salts. Most treatment centers wait until the later stages of addiction treatment to begin therapy, but Harbor Village engages intensive and group therapy as early as detox. Although detoxification is mainly intended to treat the physical aspects of addiction, establishing the underlying causes and reasons for bath salt abuse early on may provide initial insights useful for the duration of treatment.
Getting treatment for abuse — especially before one becomes chronically addicted — can help avoid permanent physical and psychological damage, increasing your chances of long-term recovery.