What’s up with the bath salts thing? An explanation of sorts.


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There has been a recent flurry of press coverage related to the use and abuse of “bath salts.” This post is a summary of information coming to the PIC Library staff from various channels.

One thing to understand, is that these are not the Epsom salts or cosmetic bath salts that we normally think of (so please kids, don’t go getting any funny ideas). These products are said to contain either mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) or MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone) or both.

They are synthetic stimulants with reported hallucinogenic properties (“designer drugs”) packaged  and marketed as bath salts to avoid attention and FDA regulation.  Products are sold in little packets online and convenience retail stores with names such as Cloud 9, Ivory Wave, Ocean, Charge Plus, White Lightning, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Red Dove and White Dove (reference).

In fact in a recent statement by Jay Ansell, Vice President, Cosmetics Program, Personal Care Products Council, the difference has been described in an effort to protect the reputation of “real bath salts”:

“Two designer drugs, mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), are being sold over the Internet as “research chemicals,” “plant food” or “bath salts.”… These fake products have nothing to do with real bath salts made by reputable health, cosmetic and personal care products companies…Designer drugs like these are created specifically to get around existing drug laws, as in the case of the cannabis substitute Spice, sold as an exotic incense blend…”

Mephedrone is a synthetic stimulant with a long history, that was banned across Europe in December 2010 and has gained recent attention from several US local, state, and federal agencies. Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV)  has been around for a shorter time.  Both substances are said to be structurally related to cathinone, an active alkaloid found in the khat plant.

According to an email forward we received originating from Barbara Ryan, of the SilverGate Group:

  • MDPV and mephedrone are both stimulants with action similar to amphetamines.  Thus they appear to carry risk of addiction and complications from stimulant use including heart rate and blood pressure increases. The drugs appear to be most commonly snorted, but may also be smoked or even injected.
  • As of now, these two drugs are not controlled by the DEA.  Thus, as long as they are not sold for human consumption, they are legal to buy and possess in states where bans have not been put in place (including Colroado).
  • The ONDCP has issued a statement about these drugs, and it appears that the DEA is studying them as well.
  • There are no research studies on the effects of these drugs on humans, and thus their true risks are unknown. Also, there are no reliable estimates available about prevalence of their use, either on or off college campuses. While use is probably very low right now, the current media attention being given to this class of drug may spark interest.
  • The public should be educated that these are potent drugs and their legal status in no way implies that they are safe.
  • There are numerous accounts of hospitalizations from these drugs.
  • Also, it’s important that everyone understand that snorting actual bath salts is not what is happening. Misunderstanding this may lead to some rather ugly poisoning cases as misinformed young people attempt to get high with the wrong type of product.  Again, it does not appear that these drugs were ever truly manufactured as a bath salt. They are sold by the gram in smoke shops, not by the pound in bath and body stores.