Bath Salts Abuse and Addiction

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

New Type of Bath Salts

Flakka

What is Flakka?

Word on the street is that Flakka (also called gravel or flocka) is a combination of heroin and crack, or heroin and methamphetamines, but in reality, Flakka is just a newer-generation version of bath salts. Bath salts, in general, are synthetic psychoactive drugs made in large quantities in foreign drug labs. These drugs are all related to a broader group of chemical compounds known as cathinones. Each time one type of bath salt is made illegal, the drug labs change the chemical structure slightly and a new drug that is technically not illegal is created. In the case of Flakka, the new chemical is called alpha-PVP. Drug users take Flakka to get a feeling of euphoria, a heightened sense of awareness, stimulation, and energy.

Bath salts facts

  • Bath salts as drugs of abuse refer to a white powder or crystalline substance that has no bathing or other cosmetic use.
  • The active ingredients in bath salts tend to be similar chemically and in their effects to stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines. Some have hallucinogenic effects.
  • The occurrence of bath salts abuse in the United States has rapidly increased over the last few years, and the substance is sold in many small stores as well as on the street.
  • A number of the active ingredients in bath salts are considered to be quite addictive and dangerous. They have therefore been banned by laws in the majority of states as well as by federal law.
  • There are a number of biological, psychological, and social factors (called risk factors) that can increase a person's vulnerability to developing a bath salts use disorder.
  • The signs and symptoms of bath salts intoxication tend to include feeling euphoric ("high"), sexually stimulated, thinking one is more focused, and having a high energy level for two to four hours after taking the drug.
  • Several severe medical and emotional complications can result from bath salts abuse, including death.
  • Health-care professionals diagnose bath salts abuse and addiction by thoroughly gathering medical, family, and mental-health information.
  • The treatment of bath salts intoxication involves providing intensive medical monitoring and attention to address the specific symptoms the individual has.
  • Treatment for the psychological symptoms of addiction likely takes a great deal longer than managing the medical problems involved.

What are bath salts, and how do people abuse bath salts?

Bath salts are a type of "designer" drug of abuse. The reason these drugs are commonly called bath salts is because they tend to be in the form of white powder or crystals. However, these substances are not at all the same as the bath salts in which people bathe. Many of the bath salt drugs include mephedrone, methylone, and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV or MDPK) and are synthetic cathinones, which are found in plants commonly called khat. These drugs and are chemically similar to stimulant chemicals like cocaine or amphetamines. MDPV or MDPK also have chemical similarities to hallucinogens like Ecstasy.

Some of the other many street or slang names for bath salts include plant food, Red Dove, Blue Silk, Vanilla Sky, Purple Wave, Ivory Wave, Bliss, White Lightning, White Dove, Super Coke, Tranquility, Zoom, and Magic. Mephedrone also has street names like meow, drone, and meph. These so-called designer drugs are usually taken by ingesting, smoking, sniffing, or injecting.

The rate of bath salts abuse has rapidly increased. For example, poison-control centers in the United States reportedly received 304 calls for the abuse of this drug in 2010. That number increased to 1,782 calls in just the first four months of 2011 and to more than 6,000 calls by the end of that year. Interestingly, there were fewer calls to poison-control centers in 2012 and 2013 (2,691 and 996, respectively). The areas where these drugs are used have also seemed to expand; originally, most of the calls to poison-control centers came from Louisiana, Florida, and Kentucky but later came from 33 states.

As of 2011, bath salts were the sixth most commonly used drugs, after tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and Ecstasy. Bath salts users tend to be male slightly more often than female and younger than the users of other drugs, and most use it at least weekly. Most bath salts users snort or otherwise inhale the drug, causing a more intense high and higher risk of addiction and complications.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/16/2016

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