Bath Salts: Dangerous Drugs in Disguise

Although outlawed in many states, these synthetic stimulants are still around. (AP Photo/The Patriot-News, Chris Knight)

Parent alert! With innocent-sounding names like Monkey Dust, Purple Rain, White Rush and Vanilla Sky, “bath salts” may sound like something you swirl into a tub of hot water. But these outlawed designer drugs pack a dangerous double punch similar cocaine plus methamphetamines, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University warned this week.

You’d have every reason to believe the bath-salt danger was over. After plenty of media coverage in 2011, these synthetic stimulants have been outlawed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and many other states. But news this week shows that they’re still around – and may be even more dangerous than experts realized:

Aimed at teens and young adults, bath salts are still on sale: Just this week, bath salts were discovered in police raids at six Pennsylvania businesses in Berks, Centre and Schuylkill Counties. And these drugs are still sold online – where they’re also sometimes called "plant food," "party powder" and “insect repellent.” They’re usually sold in small packets, about the size of a moist towelette.

Problems rose dramatically through 2011: Bath salts can trigger suicidal thoughts, violent behavior, hallucinations and agitation as well as high blood pressure, increased heart rate and even death. According to new statistics from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, calls to poison control centers about serious reactions to bath salts jumped from 304 in 2010 to 6,138 in 2011. Sixty percent of the time, cases involved people age 25 and younger.

They wallop the brain: In their new study, the Virginia Commonwealth University researchers said they were shocked at this synthetic stimulant drug’s effects on the brain. “Methamphetamine and cocaine operate in the brain in completely opposite ways,” noted researcher Louis J. De Felice. “It would be atypical that both drugs would be taken together, but that’s the effect that occurs with bath salts.”  His group found that two ingredients — mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone – both produce long-lasting feelings of euphoria. The study will be presented in late February at the annual meeting of the Biophysical Society.

True confession: I was barely aware of bath salts until recently. And I know I’m not alone. Plenty of parents don’t know much about these drugs – or how easy it is for teens (or even younger kids) to get their hands on them. Now there’s help. This month, the White House’s Drug Policy Director and the nonprofit anti-drug organization The Partnership at announced new, nationwide efforts to help law enforcement and parents learn more about bath salts and other synthetic drugs (more on those others, such as synthetic marijuana, in a later blog post). Parents will find an easy-to-understand yet comprehensive information kit here.

What’s your experience? Have you talked with your kids about the dangers of bath salts? What did you tell them?