It’s no news that people want to get high. The urge to turn off our brains for a while, or do something that just feels good, goes back at least 8,000 years. We know that because the ancient Sumerians wrote about beer on tablets that have lasted until the present day. There is every reason to believe that our romance with intoxication goes much farther back than that — probably to the time when one of our hunter-gatherer ancestors first discovered that spoiled fruit could give a guy a buzz.
So it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs keep trying to stay ahead of the law by developing and marketing drugs that start off more-or-less legal due to the inability of regulators to keep up with the changes. The way laws are currently written, if a drug isn’t specifically mentioned in a statute it’s pretty hard to prosecute someone for possessing it, and even harder to charge anyone who sells it.
Thus, we have “bath salts,” the current entrepreneurial emesis. Unconcerned with details like clinical trials and the variety of other checks and balances needed to gain approval for mainstream pharmaceuticals, the manufacturers of these designer drugs make them available to a public that is absolutely at their mercy. At the same time, web sites like “bathsaltsdrug.com” and “bathsaltsreview.com” promote the alleged safety of the drugs as a “public service” (most of them actually designed to provide guidance to outlets that sell them online).
The active ingredients in most bath salts are the chemicals methylone, MDPV, mephedrone and flephedone. Sometimes referred to as “copy-cat cocaine,” these drugs — all chemically-related — are central nervous system stimulants. MDPV (Methylenedioxypyrovalerone), after which most of these drugs are modeled, is a modification of pyrovalerone, a drug that was investigated about 50 years ago for use as a weight control medication and to combat fatigue. It never got to market because of its abuse and addiction potential. MDPV is known to be several times as potent as methylphenidate (Ritalin), itself a drug with considerable potential for abuse.
Most of the drugs on the market today are analogues (slightly-changed chemical copies) of MDPV. Thus they share its drawbacks, along with some of their own. For example, the changes made in their structures to avoid legal issues are untested, and their effects largely unknown. Furthermore, they are unstable when exposed to air, and often degrade into other compounds with unknown qualities. Possible reaction with additives, packaging, or with compounds added by users, can create further complications — all problems unlikely to occur with regulated pharmaceuticals. As a result, what you think you’re seeing is not necessarily what you get.
We are beginning to see more and more headlines such as “Report: Bath salts killed Tampa man,” and “America’s New Drug Problem: Snorting ‘Bath Salts’.” We will see more, because problems with users of bath salts are becoming more common. In one case, in Panama City, Fla., several officers were needed to subdue a man who tore a radar unit out of a police car with his teeth!
Bath salts are used because they promote euphoria, increased energy, sociability, wakefulness, and have some sexual stimulant effects. On the other hand, adverse effects include (but are not limited to) rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, insomnia, nausea, tooth grinding, headaches, kidney pain, dizziness, agitation, difficulty breathing, and increased body temperature, chills and perspiration. At least one death was caused when the MDPV analogue methylone caused the brain of a 23-year-old man to swell due to lack of oxygen, and an accompanying high fever that shut down his kidneys and other organs. The possibility of drug use triggering and exaggerating users’ existing physical or mental problems is yet another risk. Nor is it a small one, as those with such issues are far more likely to resort to self-medication than others.
The solution, if there is a good one, will most likely be found in education combined with laws that are written to close the loopholes that enable sale and possession of these drugs without fear of prosecution. The Federal government is investigating the possibility of a nationwide ban on unchecked use of the components involved, which may make pursuit and prosecution of the manufacturers and sellers more practical. As it is, substance abuse treatment personnel report more mentions of bath salts during intake, indicating use is on the rise. Actual treatment protocols have yet to be established, however, and there is some question whether users of these “unofficial” drugs will qualify for insurance coverage.
More, as they say, will be revealed. In the meantime, parents and other interested parties need to be on the lookout for possible drug-related behavior in loved ones, friends, and others they care about. Until we get some sort of handle on this problem, these drugs — sold in convenience stores, gas stations, head shops and similar outlets — will remain readily available to potential users of all ages.