Abusing Bath Salts
In clandestine laboratories all around the world, chemists tweak known chemicals and add in new ingredients, hoping to design a new kind of drug that can transform a user’s experience, and perhaps bring in huge profits for the company that hires the chemist. At some point, one of these drug developers created a fine, gritty powder that reacted in the human body in ways similar to amphetamines and other popular drugs. Since this product looked a little like the crystals bathers sprinkle into the water before stretching out in the tub, the developer called the new drug “bath salts.” An entire industry sprung into life in that moment, and as a result, many people have developed very dangerous addictions to these powerful substances. Getting well isn’t always easy for these people, but thankfully, the research on this drug is becoming more robust, and experts now know much more about what these drugs do inside the human body, and what kinds of treatments tend to be most effective in allowing people to get well.
Bath salts were likely developed in response to American drug laws, as the ingredients in these products were once considered completely legal within the walls of the United States. As a result, people could buy these drugs almost everywhere, including convenience stores. Young people were often seduced by these legal drugs, and the names of these substances seem to be made to appeal to the young and reckless.
Common product names like this include:
- White Lightening
As the risks of these drugs became clear, however, the government moved to tighten laws and strengthen restrictions, and as a result, many of the ingredients once used in these drugs have been declared illegal. The producers of these drugs continue to sell them, however, although they tend to sell them through dealers and online vendors rather than out in the open.
As the drugs have moved from the open market to the illicit market, the type of people who use bath salts has also changed. In a 2012 study from the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, for example, 84.5 percent of users of this drug who called poison control centers for help were 20 years or older. Perhaps these users wouldn’t have shopped for drugs in gas station convenience stores, so they wouldn’t have used bath salts when they were legal. Now that the drugs have moved underground, however, these users might be more comfortable with the idea of experimentation.
Patterns of Abuse
Bath salts can be eaten, poured into liquids and drank or sprinkled into cigarettes and smoked. Some people heat up the drugs and inhale the vapors that rise from the dissolving crystals. Methods that allow the drug to come into contact with tissues rapidly tend to be more reinforcing and more addictive than methods that take longer to deliver the drugs, so those who eat the substances may not have the same kind of intense experience felt by people who inhale vapors. Even so, everyone who uses these drugs feels at least some kind of change, and many of the modifications seem far from pleasant.
In a study in the journal Clinical Toxicology, researchers found that people who took bath salts tended to experience these symptoms:
- Fast heart rate
- Paranoia and hallucinations
- Chest pain
- Movement disorders
- High blood pressure
- Low potassium levels
- Blurred vision
Some people had just one or two of these symptoms, and they didn’t seem very intense or dangerous. Others had very serious complications due to their use, and they may have needed medical help in order to recover. According to research on this issue, published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, of those who ask for help with a bath salts reaction, about 21 percent have a reaction that’s so severe that they must be admitted to critical care units. Some people don’t survive this episode.
Some of the difference in reaction severity could be attributed to a person’s specific body chemistry. Some people are just more sensitive with bodies that react to almost any kind of stimulus with a powerful and cascading series of symptoms, while others just don’t seem as sensitive to the changes that drugs can bring about. There may be other ways in which to explain this variation, however, and these alternate explanations could be even more frightening to contemplate.
The manufacturers of bath salts aren’t concerned with the long-term health and well-being of the people they serve with drugs. They’re interested with making a profit and staying one step ahead of the law. As a result, these manufacturers might feel quite comfortable with the idea of changing their chemical formulations on a daily basis, replacing banned ingredients with other substances that aren’t yet considered illegal. They might also add in other substances that are illegal, in order to make their products more powerful and perhaps more popular. People who take bath salts one day and have no reaction might not have the same fate the next time they try drugs, as the ingredients might change in the interim.
Articles discussing drug use and addiction often focus on the pleasure that drugs can provide, suggesting that people take drugs repeatedly because they enjoy the changes the drugs can bring about in the way they feel and experience the world. It’s difficult to describe bath salts in this manner, as most people who take these substances just feel terrible as a result of their use and abuse, with a racing heart and a struggling mind. As a result, it’s easy to assume that people who abuse these drugs might not ever touch the stuff again, as they might not ever want to experience the same kind of distress and misery. Unfortunately, much of the effect of bath salts has little to do with pleasure, and even so, people who use these drugs often report that it’s difficult to stop their abuse.
Most formulations of bath salts contain a substance known as MPDV, and according to research quoted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this ingredient has been linked with high levels of addiction.
In this study of rats, those given access to the drug increased their dosages in patterns similar to those used by rats given access to methamphetamine. This drug is considered one of the most addictive substances in the world, meaning that bath salts might be considered intensely habit-forming. People who take bath salts may feel a strong urge to take the drug again, and that urge may come from the deep and primal portions of the brain that are hard to tame and control. Their need for the substances might persist, no matter what their rational mind may have to say about the matter.
How to Help
In the past, families of people who were addicted were told that they should allow the person they love to hit their absolute emotional and physical bottom, and only then would the person be ready for the hard work and emotional commitment that results in a recovery from an addiction. Thankfully, researchers suggest that this may not be the case for all people. In fact, many researchers suggest that coerced therapy is just as helpful as therapy the person chooses to enter on his/her own. This means that families don’t have to wait for the worst thing to happen. They can take action as soon as they see the addiction unfold, and as a result, they may be able to prevent some of the more serious consequences of a bath salt addiction from even taking place.
An intervention for addiction might be the best way for a family to stop the damage. Here, the family chooses a time in which the addicted person is typically sober, and they hold a conversation in which each family member has the opportunity to:
- Express love
- Outline the symptoms of addiction that person has seen
- Describe how the family has changed due to the addiction
- Ask the person to get help
These talks can be emotionally draining, and it’s not uncommon for addicted people to claim that they don’t need help and that the family is somehow abusing them, but when the talk is held by a trained professional, the family has the opportunity to practice and learn about addiction before the conversation begins. This training can help to ensure that the family sticks to phrases that pack a powerful punch, and that the person feels loved and supported as the talk moves forward. This could be the best way to stop the cycle.
Families that hesitate to step in due to privacy concerns or embarrassment might do well to remember what’s at stake. After all, according to an article in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, bath salts can be at least 10 times more potent than cocaine in causing high blood pressure and heart problems. Allowing the addiction to continue could mean allowing someone who is loved and needed to continue to do real damage, and that could lead to death. Stepping in might be hard, but leaving the addiction in place might be even harder in the long run.
If you need help talking to someone about an addiction or you’d like to find out more about how these issues are typically treated, please call us. At The Orchid, we’ve developed a series of programs just for women with addiction histories, and we specialize in helping addicted women and their families understand the consequences and avoid the damage an addiction can cause. We’d love to help someone you love to get better. Please call us to find out more and to ask us any questions you might have.