Bath salts (drug)

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A package of drugs disguised in "bath salts" packaging.

"Bath salts" (also called "psychoactive bath salts" or "PABS")[1][2] is a term used to describe a number of recreational designer drugs.[3][4] The name derives from instances in which the drugs were sold disguised as true bath salts.[5][6][7] The white powder, granules, or crystals often resemble true bath salts such as Epsom salts, but are very different chemically. The drug's packaging often states "not for human consumption" in an attempt to circumvent drug prohibition laws.[5] Recreational drugs have also been similarly disguised as plant food, hookah cleaner, and other products.


Synthetic cathinones such as mephedrone, which are chemically similar to cathinone, naturally found in the plant Catha edulis (khat), were first synthesised in the 1920s.[7] They remained obscure until the first decade of the 21st century, when underground chemists rediscovered them and began to use them in designer drugs, as the compounds were legal in many jurisdictions.[7][8] In 2009 and 2010 there was a significant rise in the abuse of synthetic cathinones, initially in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, and subsequently in the United States. Drugs marketed as "bath salts" first came to the attention of authorities in the US in 2010 after reports were made to US poison centers.[6] In Europe, the drugs were predominantly purchased from websites, but in the US they were mainly sold in small independent stores such as gas stations and head shops.[6] In the US, this often made them easier to obtain than cigarettes and alcohol.[6] Bath salts have also been sold online in small packets.[9]

Hundreds of other designer drugs or "legal highs" have been reported, including artificial chemicals such as synthetic cannabis and semi-synthetic substances such as methylhexaneamine.[10] These drugs are primarily developed to avoid being controlled by laws against illegal drugs, thus giving them the label of designer drugs.[10]

In the US, 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.[9] Calls related to bath salts then began to decrease; by 2015, the number had declined to 522.[11]


Pharmacologically, bath salts usually contain a cathinone, typically methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), methylone or mephedrone; however, the chemical composition varies widely[6][12] and products labeled with the same name may also contain derivatives of pyrovalerone or pipradrol. In Europe the main synthetic cathinone is mephedrone, whereas in the US MDPV is more common.[6]

Very little is known about how bath salts interact with the brain and how they are metabolised by the body. Scientists are inclined to believe that bath salts have a powerful addictive potential and can increase users' tolerance.[7][13] They are similar to amphetamines in that they cause stimulant effects by increasing the concentration of monoamines such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in synapses.[7][14] They are generally less able to cross the blood brain barrier than amphetamines due to the presence of a beta-keto group that increases the compound's polarity.[7]


Bath salts can be orally ingested, snorted, smoked, or injected. Injection is especially ill-advised as these products rarely list ingredients, let alone dosage. Bath salts are known to be detrimental to human health and have been known to cause erratic behaviour, hallucinations, and delusions.[15]

Health issues[edit]

Users of bath salts have reported experiencing symptoms including headache, heart palpitations, nausea, and cold fingers. Hallucinations, paranoia, and panic attacks have also been reported,[16] and news media have reported associations with violent behavior,[17] heart attack, kidney failure, liver failure, suicide, an increased tolerance for pain,[5] dehydration, and breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue.[18]

Contrary to popular belief, investigators found no connection to bath salts in the Miami cannibal attack.[19]

Visual symptoms similar to those of stimulant overdoses include dilated pupils, involuntary muscle movement, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure.[20][21]

Interaction with alcohol[edit]

Bath salts are very often consumed concurrently with alcohol. A 2015 study[22] has investigated the interrelation between mephedrone and alcohol, focusing on psychostimulant and rewarding effects. It showed that alcohol, at low (non-stimulant) doses, significantly enhances the psychostimulant effects of mephedrone. This effect is mediated by an increase in synaptic dopamine, as haloperidol, but not ketanserin, was capable of blocking the potentiation by alcohol.


MDPV cannot be smelled by detection dogs[5] and will not be found in typical urinalysis,[23] although they can be detected in urine and hair analyses using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.[24][25] Distributors may disguise the drug as everyday substances such as fertilizer or insect repellent.[5][26]


Little is known about how many people use bath salts.[7] In the UK, mephedrone, commonly known as MCAT, is the fourth most commonly used drug among nightclub goers after cannabis, MDMA and cocaine.[7] Based on reports to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, use of bath salts in the US is thought to have increased significantly between 2010 and 2011.[7] The increase in use is thought to result from their widespread availability, undetectability on many drug tests, and sensationalist media coverage.[12]

Users tend to range from ages 15–55 with the average being age 28.[20]

Legal status[edit]

The drug policy of Canada since the fall of 2012 categorizes methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) as a schedule I substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, placing it in the same category as heroin and MDMA.[5] Mephedrone and methylone are already illegal in Canada and most of the United States.[5]

In the United Kingdom, all substituted cathinones were made illegal in April 2010,[27][28] under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, but other designer drugs such as naphyrone appeared soon after[29] and some products described as legal contained illegal compounds.[30] To avoid being controlled by the Medicines Act, designer drugs such as mephedrone have been described as "bath salts", or other misnomers such as "plant food" despite the compounds having no history of being used for these purposes.[16][31][32]

In July 2012, US federal drug policy was amended to ban the drugs commonly found in bath salts.[33] Prior to that, bath salts were illegal in at least 41 states.[34] Prior to the compounds being made illegal, mephedrone, methylone, and MDPV were marketed as bath salts.[35] The "bath salt" name and labels that say "not for human consumption" are an attempt to skirt the Federal Analog Act, which forbids selling drugs that are substantially similar to drugs already classified for human use.[35][36][37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gray, Bobbe Ann; Holland, Cindra (June 2014). "Implications of Psychoactive 'Bath Salts' Use During Pregnancy". Nursing for Women's Health. 18 (3): 220–30. doi:10.1111/1751-486X.12123. PMID 24939199. 
  2. ^ Ross, Edward A.; Watson, Mary; Goldberger, Bruce (September 8, 2011). ""Bath Salts" Intoxication". New England Journal of Medicine. 365 (10): 967–8. doi:10.1056/NEJMc1107097. 
  3. ^ "DEA: Chemicals Used in "Bath Salts" Now Under Federal Control and Regulation". Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Situation Report. Synthetic Cathinones (Bath Salts): An Emerging Domestic Threat" (PDF). United States Department of Justice: National Drug Intelligence Center. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Black, Matthew (June 25, 2012). "What are 'bath salts'? A look at Canada's newest illegal drug". CBC News. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Spiller HA, Ryan ML, Weston RG, Jansen J (2011). "Clinical experience with and analytical confirmation of "bath salts" and "legal highs" (synthetic cathinones) in the United States". Clinical Toxicology. 49 (6): 499–505. doi:10.3109/15563650.2011.590812. PMID 21824061. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Coppola M, Mondola R (2012). "Synthetic cathinones: Chemistry, pharmacology and toxicology of a new class of designer drugs of abuse marketed as "bath salts" or "plant food"". Toxicology Letters. 211 (2): 144–149. doi:10.1016/j.toxlet.2012.03.009. PMID 22459606. 
  8. ^ Morris, H. (April 5, 2010). "Hamilton's Pharmacopeia. Mephedrone: the phantom menace". Vice Magazine. Archived from the original on October 30, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b Dolak, Kevin (June 5, 2012). "'Bath Salts': Use of Dangerous Drug Increasing Across U.S." ABC News: Good Morning America. Retrieved December 28, 2013.  (Speaker Icon.svg Page will play audio when loaded)
  10. ^ a b McElrath, K; O'Neill, C (March 2011). "Experiences with mephedrone pre- and post-legislative controls: perceptions of safety and sources of supply". The International Journal on Drug Policy. 22 (2): 120–7. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2010.11.001. PMID 21242082. 
  11. ^ "Bath Salts". American Association of Poison Control Centers. Retrieved January 18, 2017. In 2012, poison centers took 2,697 calls about exposures to bath salts with the number reducing to 998 in 2013. In 2014, there were 587 exposure calls with the number reducing to 522 in 2015. 
  12. ^ a b Prosser JM, Nelson LS (2011). "The Toxicology of Bath Salts: A Review of Synthetic Cathinones". Journal of Medical Toxicology. 8 (1): 33–42. doi:10.1007/s13181-011-0193-z. PMC 3550219Freely accessible. PMID 22108839. 
  13. ^ Ross, EA; Watson, M; Goldberger, B (September 8, 2011). ""Bath Salts" Intoxication". The New England Journal of Medicine. 365 (10): 967–968. doi:10.1056/NEJMc1107097. PMID 21899474. Retrieved March 20, 2013. 
  14. ^ Kehr, J.; Ichinose, F.; Yoshitake, S.; Goiny, M.; Sievertsson, T.; Nyberg, F.; Yoshitake, T. (April 2011). "Mephedrone, compared to MDMA (ecstasy) and amphetamine, rapidly increases both dopamine and serotonin levels in nucleus accumbens of awake rats". British Journal of Pharmacology. 164 (8): 1949–58. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01499.x. PMC 3246659Freely accessible. PMID 21615721. 
  15. ^ "Europol–EMCDDA Joint Report on a new psychoactive substance: 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone)" (PDF). European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. May 27, 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 8, 2011. 
  16. ^ a b Reed, Jim (January 13, 2010). "Clubbers are 'turning to new legal high mephedrone'". BBC News. Retrieved July 4, 2010. 
  17. ^ Dolak, Kevin (June 5, 2012). "'Bath Salts': Use of Dangerous Drug Increasing Across U.S." ABC News. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  18. ^ "DrugFacts: Synthetic Cathinones ('Bath Salts')". National Institute on Drug Abuse. November 2012. Retrieved December 18, 2013. 
  19. ^ Laboy, Suzette (June 27, 2012). "Tests find only marijuana in face-chewer's system". Associated Press – via Boston Globe. 
  20. ^ a b Miller, Michael C. (September 2011). "Ask the Doctor: Bath salts—a new way to get high?". Harvard Mental Health Letter. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
    Q. I heard a news story about people using bath salts to get high. How is that possible? My husband and I have two teenagers. Should we talk with them about this?

    A. The "bath salts" you've heard about have nothing to do with the type that people add to water and use while soaking in a tub. These newer bath salts are designer drugs that circumvent the laws governing controlled or illegal substances, but can be used to get high.

    The active chemicals in these salts — mephedrone, pyrovalerone, or methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) — all have stimulant properties. They are ...
      (contains additional text)
  21. ^ Sivagnanam G. (February 3, 2012). "News and Views: 'Drug abuse' of a different 'wave' length". Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics. 3 (1): 85–86. doi:10.4103/0976-500x.92493. Retrieved December 28, 2013. (Registration required (help)).  (contains additional text)
  22. ^ Ciudad-Roberts, Andrés; Camarasa, Jorge; Ciudad, Carlos J.; Pubill, David; Escubedo, Elena (2015). "Alcohol enhances the psychostimulant and conditioning effects of mephedrone in adolescent mice; postulation of unique roles of D receptors and BDNF in place preference acquisition". British Journal of Pharmacology. 172: 4970–4984. doi:10.1111/bph.13266. PMC 4621996Freely accessible. 
  23. ^ Winder, G. S.; Stern, N.; Hosanagar, A. (March 2012). "Are "Bath Salts" the next generation of stimulant abuse?". J Subst Abuse Treat. 44 (1): 42–45. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2012.02.003. PMID 22445773. 
  24. ^ Baselt, R. (2011). Disposition of Toxic Drugs and Chemicals in Man (PDF) (9th ed.). Seal Beach, CA: Biomedical Publications. pp. 992–993. 
  25. ^ Rust KY, Baumgartner MR, Dally AM, Kraemer T (2012). "Prevalence of new psychoactive substances: A retrospective study in hair". Drug Testing and Analysis. 4 (6): 402–408. doi:10.1002/dta.1338. PMID 22522922. 
  26. ^ "'Bath salts,' synthetic drugs targeted in Schneiderman lawsuits". Long Island Newsday. July 10, 2012. Archived from the original on December 28, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2013. 
  27. ^ "BBC – Democracy Live – MPs move to ban mephedrone". BBC News. April 7, 2010. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  28. ^ "The Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) (England, Wales and Scotland) Regulations 2010 No. 1144". Office of Public Sector Information. April 16, 2010. Archived from the original on February 10, 2011. 
  29. ^ "NRG-1 'legal high' drug is banned". BBC News. July 12, 2010. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  30. ^ Brandt, SD; Sumnall, HR; Measham, F; Cole, J (July 2010). "Second generation mephedrone: The confusing case of NRG-1". British Medical Journal. 341: c3564. doi:10.1136/bmj.c3564. PMID 20605894. 
  31. ^ "Consideration of the Cathinones" (PDF). Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. March 31, 2010. p. 25. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 2, 2010. Retrieved April 1, 2010. 
  32. ^ "Police warning over 'bubble' drug". BBC News. November 20, 2009. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  33. ^ Patience Haggin (July 10, 2012). "Obama Signs Federal Ban on 'Bath Salt' Drugs". Time. Newsfeed. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  34. ^ "Synthetic Drug Threats". National Conference of State Legislatures. November 28, 2012. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  35. ^ a b Abby Goodnough; Katie Zezima (July 16, 2011). "An Alarming New Stimulant, Legal in Many States". New York Times. Retrieved January 15, 2012. 
  36. ^ Victoria Cumbow (February 6, 2011). "Synthetic form of cocaine and methamphetamine being packaged as bath salts". The Huntsville Times. Retrieved February 10, 2011. 
  37. ^ "Reports: Miami 'zombie' attacker may have been using 'bath salts'". CNN. May 29, 2012. Retrieved December 28, 2013.