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Updated on August 21, 2021

Bath Salts: Dangers, Side Effects & Addiction

What are Bath Salts?

Bath salts is a common name for synthetic cathinones, a type of human-made drug with stimulant effects. Cathinone is a chemical found naturally in a khat plant, a shrub grown in East Africa and Southern Arabia.

Although bath salts are chemically similar to a natural plant, this drug is much stronger than its natural counterpart. The drug has similar effects to drugs like MDMA or amphetamines.

Bath salts are part of a group of drugs known as ‘New Psychoactive Substances’ that have no medical use but are produced for recreational use, misuse, and abuse.

Bath salts can look like a white or brown crystal powder, wrapped in plastic or foil packages, and can be sold under labels like “jewelry cleaner,” "phone screen cleaner," or “plant food.” The drug also goes by street names such as:

  • Vanilla Sky
  • Bliss
  • White Lightning
  • Lunar wave

Bath salts are particularly dangerous because they are unregulated, usually sold in small plastic or foil. However, their effects can mimic those of drugs like MDMA or amphetamines. Bath salts can be swallowed, snorted, or injected, and the effects usually last up to 8 hours. It can take nearly a day for the full effects of the drug to wear off.

Since 2010, the use of bath salts in the U.S. has increased rapidly, which has led to an increase in poison control center calls and emergency room visits.

Side Effects of Bath Salts

As one of the many synthetic cathinones, bath salts are stimulants that can produce an intense ‘high’ or feelings of euphoria. This high can make people uninhibited or overly friendly, but it can also have negative and dangerous side effects. Side effects of bath salts include:

  • Extreme paranoia, feeling suspicious
  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Combative
  • Chest pain
  • Dehydration
  • Organ damage

Despite the widespread use of bath salts, there is little understanding of how most synthetic cathinone derivatives affect the body and a user’s behaviors.

There are also side effects of stopping the use of bath salts. Detoxing from bath salts can result in withdrawal symptoms, which can range from uncomfortable to dangerous. These might include symptoms like:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Feeling paranoid

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Risks of Use

Bath salts are not regulated, and there’s no way to know what exactly is in the drug. This can increase the risk of overdose, as some people may not know how much they are taking or whether it’s mixed with other drugs.

Bath salts are very strong and can make people take risks they wouldn’t usually take. This can increase the risk of accidents or injuries. There are also risks associated with the euphoric or delirious state that bath salts produce.

  • Taking bath salts can cause dehydration, which puts the body’s muscles, tissues, and organs under stress
  • Regular use of bath salts can have long-term impacts on organ function and may result in kidney failure
  • Using bath salts can alter important chemicals in the brain like serotonin or dopamine, which can cause low mood or ‘come downs’

As with any drug, using bath salts alone or in combination with other drugs comes with a risk of overdose.

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Are Bath Salts Addictive?

Bath salts are designed to mimic other drugs of abuse and can be highly addictive. Taking the drug can cause feelings of intense drug craving that lead to drug binges, making it very hard to stop.

While using bath salts can impact the body, people may start to psychologically rely on the drug as well.

  • Abuse of bath salts can result in strong drug craving or urge to use the drug again, which can lead to addiction.
  • Regular bath salt use can lead to tolerance, where the body requires a larger dose to feel the same effect.
  • If used regularly, the body can become dependent on bath salts to function normally.
  • Bath salts can also be psychologically addictive, and people can come to chase the feeling of euphoria they get when taking them.

An important sign of bath salts addiction is the experience of withdrawal symptoms when stopping. Although more research is required, a survey of 1,500 people who use bath salts found that over 50 percent consider it addictive.

Addiction Symptoms

Addiction is a serious illness and can change the way people think and behave. Someone addicted to bath salts may have physical symptoms but might also have a hard time performing daily activities. Some of the signs and symptoms of a bath salt addiction include:

  • Preoccupation with finding bath salts, and stress or anger if they are unable to take them
  • Ignoring the consequences of taking bath salts
  • Taking a higher dose than normal or using very regularly
  • Poor hygiene
  • Low mood or agitation if they are unable to take drugs
  • Changes in appetite or weight change
  • Loss of interest in things they would usually enjoy

Overdose Symptoms

One of the most commonly reported ingredients found in bath salts is 3,4 methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). It is a stimulant in the synthetic cathinone class with a very high potential for abuse. It is usually taken for recreational purposes.

However, intoxication to MDPV can result in dangerous physiological symptoms such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, irregular heart rhythm, hallucinations, psychosis, psychomotor agitation, and many more.

Needle injection or snorting of bath salts causes the greatest harm. Mixing bath salts with alcohol and drugs is very dangerous.

A patient who has overdosed on MDPV-containing bath salts may need to be admitted to the intensive care unit for close monitoring. This is because there is no known antidote for overdose cases.

Watch out for signs and symptoms of bath salts overdose, which include:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Cardiovascular collapse
  • Extreme agitation
  • Violent behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory distress

Addiction Treatment

There are many different types of therapy available for substance use disorders, such as a bath salt addiction. The first step in treatment is dealing with the initial side effects of the drug, like managing body temperature and any aggressive behavior.

Although more research is required on specific treatment for bath salt addiction, a combination of medication and therapy effectively supports recovery. Treatment can be delivered in an inpatient or outpatient setting, or both, and may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy — a type of talk therapy that aims to identify and challenge ways of thinking, and to develop new skills and strategies to support recovery
  • Individual or group therapy — sessions may take place one-on-one, or in a group where people can learn from each other’s experiences
  • Peer support — the support of friends, family or therapy groups, like 12-step programs - can be critical to addiction recovery

Before treatment, health care providers also screen for co-occurring mental health conditions, provide necessary medical advice, and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Taking bath salts comes with many risks, but stopping can be difficult. Addiction to bath salts requires professional help to support recovery. Reach out for treatment today.

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Resources

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National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Synthetic Cathinones (“Bath Salts”).” 2018.

Prosser, Jane M, and Nelson, Lewis S. “The Toxicology of Bath Salts: A Review of Synthetic Cathinones.” Journal of Medical Toxicology, vol. 8, 2011, pp. 33-42.

Johnson, Patrick S., and Johnson, Matthew W. “Investigation of “Bath Salts” Use Patterns Within an Online Sample of Users in the United States.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, vol 46, no.5, 2014, pp. 369–378. doi:10.1080/02791072.2014.962717.

Baumann, Michael H et al. “Psychoactive “bath salts”: not so soothing.” European Journal of Pharmacology, vol 698, no.1-3, 2013, pp 1–5. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2012.11.020.

Scherbaum, Norbert et al. “New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – a Challenge for the Addiction Treatment Services.” Pharmacopsychiatry, vol. 50, no. 3, 2019, pp. 116-122.

McClenahan, Samantha et al. "Cardiovascular effects of 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) in male and female Sprague-Dawley rats." Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Vol 195, 1 February 2019, pp 140-147.doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2018.12.006. 

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