Effects of Bath Salts Abuse: Short-Term and Long-Term
The term bath salts no longer only applies to aromatherapy added to bath water. The slang term is now applied to types of synthetic cathinones, which are highly toxic. Some forms of bath salts are technically legal, though they are highly dangerous.
Although some forms of synthetic cannabinoids, like Spice, and synthetic cathinones have been outlawed at the federal level, manufacturers of these drugs change the chemical formulas routinely to bypass state and federal law. Bath salts once referred to a specific formula for synthetic cathinones – stimulants that are chemically similar to cocaine or methamphetamines – but now, the term has become a generalization for many new synthetic cathinones that are sold in gas stations, head shops, and other, similar retail outlets all over the US. These drugs are usually referred to as NPS, or new psychoactive substances.
Bath salts are unpredictable since their chemistry always changes. The foil packages feature a warning: not for human consumption. While this is one of many ways the drugs get around import and retail laws, it is not far from the truth. Severe, dangerous side effects are more likely when a drug has no consistent dose and is not a consistent chemical formula. People who use bath salts even once or twice are at risk of serious harm.
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Short-Term Dangers of Bath Salts
The way synthetic cathinones affect the brain, releasing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, is only beginning to be understood. Because synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids are very new, and the chemical formulas change frequently, research into their chemistry is not conclusive.
However, the effects of bath salts are often very apparent. While a person is high on bath salts, psychoactive effects include:
- Paranoia and extreme anxiety
- Excited delirium: agitation or violent behavior toward oneself or others
- Increased sociability, similar to cocaine’s effects
- Increased sex drive, similar to amphetamine’s effects
The combination of anxiety, delirium, and hallucinations has led many people to cause harm to themselves or others while they were on bath salts. Initially, the person may experience pleasure or euphoria since synthetic cathinones do release dopamine; however, for most people, this experience rapidly fades, as the drug leads to intense anxiety.
The amount of dopamine released by the brain is 10 times greater than that released by cocaine, and dopamine is responsible for hallucinations.
Physical side effects can vary but usually include:
- Elevated body temperature
- Rapid heartbeat and breathing
- Increased blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Sweating, with an unusual body odor
- Shortness of breath
- Shaking and twitching muscles
While many people wonder why a person would take a drug that is infamous for the damage it causes, these drugs are cheap and often legal. Rather than finding a dealer and paying thousands of dollars, a person can go to a corner store and spend less than $10. However, the ease and price cannot justify the ultimate dangers of consuming these chemicals.
Long-Term Dangers of Bath Salts
Although bath salts are just beginning to be understood, researchers suspect that the drugs are highly addictive because of their rapid onset, the amount of dopamine released, and the body’s quick dependence on the chemical. Withdrawal symptoms are not deadly, but they can be intense. They include:
- Ongoing paranoia
People who are prone to mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, psychosis, and schizophrenia are at greater risk for triggering these conditions if they use bath salts even once.
The drugs also seriously damage the body when used repeatedly. Short-term physical effects that are repeated can drastically harm organ systems. This damage includes:
- Muscle injury
- Skin rashes
- Debilitation from accidental self-harm
- Rhabdomyolysis: the breakdown of skeletal muscles that then poisons the kidneys, leading to physical weakness and kidney failure
- Damage to the teeth and jaw from grinding
- Damage to cardiovascular system
Bath Salts Overdose and Psychosis
Since bath salts are unpredictable for a lot of reasons, it is easy to take too much and overdose. When a person overdoses on bath salts, their body temperature rises to dangerous levels, often well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They are extremely agitated, fearful, delirious, and violent, which makes them hard to get to a hospital for treatment. Blood pressure and heart rate can rise to dangerous levels, possibly leading to a heart attack, pulmonary embolism, or stroke. High body temperature and agitation can also cause seizures. The person may stop breathing suddenly.
There were 23,000 emergency room visits in 2011 alone due to consumption of bath salts.
Fortunately, the number of people taking bath salts is declining because reports of the dangers of synthetic cathinones are very disturbing. In 2011, for example, there were 6,000 calls to the poison control line about bath salts exposure; in 2015, that number was just 500.
Toxicity, or overdose, is the leading cause of death from synthetic cathinones. However, death from accident or self-harm due to induced psychosis is also associated with the drugs. While many reports, like the alleged “zombie” drug phenomenon, focus on harm done to others while a person is intoxicated on bath salts, self-harm is just as likely when a person experiences psychosis from the drug. They could even attempt suicide due to a combination of psychosis and depression. This kind of mental health condition is not considered an overdose, but it is extremely dangerous and prevalent among people who abuse bath salts.
Bath salts are very dangerous, so it is important to get help ending abuse of these drugs before overdose occurs.