'Bath Salts' Drug Trend: Expert Q&A

Why 'bath salts' are dangerous, though not illegal in all states.

By Matt McMillen
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

"Ivory Wave," "Purple Wave," Vanilla Sky," and "Bliss" -- all are among the many street names of a so-called designer drug known as "bath salts," which has sparked thousands of calls to poison centers across the U.S. over the last year.

Citing an "imminent threat to public safety," the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) made illegal the possession and sale of three of the chemicals commonly used to make bath salts -- the synthetic stimulants mephedrone, MDPV, and methylone. The ban, issued in October 2011, is effective for at least a year. During that time, the agency will decide whether a permanent ban is warranted.

WebMD talked about bath salts and other designer drugs with Zane Horowitz, MD, an emergency room physician and medical director of the Oregon Poison Center.

First of all, what are bath salts?

"The presumption is that most bath salts are MDPV, or methylenedioxypyrovalerone, although newer pyrovalerone derivatives are being made by illegal street chemists. Nobody really knows, because there is no way to test for these substances," Horowitz says.

Why are they called bath salts?

"It's confusing. Is this what we put in our bathtubs, like Epsom salts? No. But by marketing them as bath salts and labeling them 'not for human consumption,' they have been able to avoid them being specifically enumerated as illegal," Horowitz says.

What do you experience when you take bath salts?