Some science behind the scenes
Bath salts is a term used in North America to describe a number of drugs - most illegal, and most based on amphetamines of various sorts, which are disguised in some way in order to avoid the ban on them. One of the ways the drugs have been sold is disguised as true bath salts - hence the name. The white powder, granules, or crystals often resemble true bath salts so this adds to the disguise. The drugs' packaging often states "not for human consumption" in an attempt to circumvent drug prohibition laws.
Some of the brand names used are "Purple Wave," "Zoom," and "Cloud Nine."
Drugs marketed as "bath salts" first came to the attention of authorities in the US in 2010 after reports were made to US poison centres. In Europe, the drugs were predominantly purchased from drug dealers or from websites, but in the US they were mainly sold in small independent stores such as gas stations and 'head shops'. In the US, this often made them easier to obtain than cigarettes and alcohol.
Symptoms of ingestion have included violent headache/migraine, heart palpitations, nausea, hallucinations, paranoia, and panic attacks, violent behavior, heart attack, kidney failure, liver failure, suicide, dehydration, and breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue and death. If the person survives then long term these can be associated with brain damage and mental illness including schizophrenia and manic depression.
A person who has taken these often shows the symptoms of delirium - similar to those of stimulant overdose - including dilated pupils, involuntary muscle movement, rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure.
The contents of the packages could be anything.
The hospitals that often have to deal with the people who have taken these have found any number of different kinds of chemicals, all sold under this general heading of 'bath salts'.
Hundreds of so called 'designer drugs' have been reported, including artificial chemicals such as synthetic cannabis and semi-synthetic substances such as methylhexaneamine. Some of the contents are unique and made in small independent laboratories, but an extremely high number of the packages contain medical pharmaceuticals. Pyrovalerone (Centroton, Thymergix), for example, is used by doctors to treat obesity and is an 'appetite suppressant for weight loss purposes'. Pyrovalerone is a Schedule V controlled substance in the United States (U.S.), and is the only stimulant in that category - it is an amphetamine.
Deaths and poisonings
Both Deaths and poisonings are a relatively frequent side-effect of using these drugs. The number of calls to poison centers concerning "bath salts" rose from 304 in 2010 to 6,138 in 2011, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. More than 1,000 calls had been made in 2012 by June.
One of the problems is that many cases of poisoning are not attributed to bath salts. The person is admitted and is in no fit state to explain anything, all that is apparent is that they are either dying or poisoned. If they recover they may not admit they have taken the drugs. Many of the drugs are not detectable using common drug testing procedures.
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- A 9-state analysis of designer stimulant, "bath salt," hospital visits reported to poison control centers
- Bath salts
- Bath salts analysis
- Bath salts, plant foods and hallucinations
- Emergency department visits after use of a drug sold as "bath salts"
- Sympathomimetic syndrome, choreoathetosis, and acute kidney injury following "bath salts" injection