What Are the Effects of Bath Salts?

Bath salts are synthetic cathinones, an illegal stimulant drug that have one or more laboratory-made chemicals similar to cathinone. Cathinone is a stimulant found naturally in the khat plant, which is grown in East Africa and southern Arabia. Not to be confused with epsom salts, bath salts are addictive and dangerous.

People take bath salts because they provide a brief and intense high, but they have life-threatening effects. The short-term effects of bath salts include paranoia, dizziness, and dehydration. When taken over long periods of time, bath salts can lead to heart and brain complications, as well as seizures, long-term psychosis, violent behavior, and death.

synthetic cathinones

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What Are Bath Salts?

Bath salts are man-made stimulants chemically related to cathinone, a naturally occuring substance found in the khat plant. Its leaves are usually chewed or smoked for their mild stimulant effect.

Also known as synthetic cathinones, bath salts are part of a group known as new psychoactive substances (NPS). These are unregulated mind-altering substances with no legitimate medical use and are made to copy the effects of controlled substances. They are introduced and reintroduced into the market in quick succession to dodge or hinder law enforcement efforts to address their manufacture and sale.

Synthetic cathinones are marketed as cheap substitutes for other stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine. They are also sometimes referred to as fake cocaine.

Street names for bath salts include:

  • Bliss
  • Cloud nine
  • Lunar wave
  • Vanilla sky
  • White lightning

Bath salts usually come in a white or brown crystal-like powder, and people using this drug often swallow, snort, smoke, or inject it.


The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) marked three of the core ingredients in bath salts as schedule 1 substances. This means bath salts are considered to have a high risk of abuse. It also means they're extremely addictive and serve no medicinal or therapeutic benefits.

What Are the Effects?

Synthetic cathinones are chemically similar to drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, and MDMA. A study found that 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a common synthetic cathinone, affects the brain in a manner similar to cocaine, but is at least 10 times more powerful. 

These drugs change the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate. Nerve cells, called neurons, send messages to each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. Bath salts raise the level of one type of neurotransmitter, dopamine, in brain circuits that control the reward system, which makes people feel good. 

Bath salts have been shown to provide a temporary increase in energy, empathy, and libido. However, most of the effects of bath salts are negative.

Short-Term Effects

The short term effects of bath salts can vary depending on the size of the dose. Commonly reported short-term effects include:

  • Paranoia
  • Panic
  • Agitation
  • General mood disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to understand reality
  • Low mood
  • Delusions

Long-Term Effects

The long-term effects of bath salts can damage a person mentally and physically. Common long-term effects include:

What Are the Dangers?

Violent and Unpredictable Behavior

Bath salts cause extreme paranoia, hallucinations, and panic attacks. For this reason, they can make a person greatly detached from reality. They may also see, hear and feel things that aren’t there. They may think that a person is trying to harm them or that they posses a threat when that is not true. These experiences can shift suddenly, which makes a person on bath salts extremely unpredictable.

Addiction/Withdrawal

Bath salts have a high potential for addiction because they stimulate dopamine transmission. After repeated use, a person using bath salts can’t create dopamine naturally without it. This makes them experience depression, anxiety, insomnia, tremors, and paranoia. This drives a person to want to keep taking the drug to feel better, creating the cycle of addiction.

Overdose

Circuits in the reward system use dopamine to teach the brain to repeat actions we find pleasurable. Drugs that take control of this system and release large amounts of dopamine, like bath saltsfirst in response to the drug but later mainly in response to other cues associated with the drug. The result is an intense motivation to seek the drug.

During an overdose, a person can experience a sharp increase in body temperature. They may also experience agitation and become violent. Someone overdosing from bath salts is at increased risk of seizure, heart attack, embolism, or stroke.

Death

Bath salts can cause death for a variety of reasons. For example, they can cause a deadly stroke or heart attack. They can also lead to excited delirium, a physical and emotional state that results in extreme dehydration, kidney failure, and sometimes death.

According to the U.S. Department of Health, bath salts were associated with 20,000 hospital and emergency room visits in 2011.

Getting Help

It is extremely difficult to overcome addiction to bath salts without professional treatment. It’s important to get emergency help if you or someone you know experiences any of the following symptoms while taking bath salts:

  • Bizarre behavior and disorientation
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Thoughts about harming others
  • Pain in the chest, stomach, or kidneys
  • Extreme temperature rise or drop
  • Seizures
  • Intense vomiting

How to Seek Help

If you or someone you know is using bath salts and experiencing a withdrawal, call 9-1-1 or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline. If you, or a friend, are in crisis and need to speak with someone now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. 


A Word From Verywell

Struggling with addiction to any drug is difficult. It’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you or a loved one is experiencing addiction to bath salts. The sooner you seek professional help, the easier it is to help the person struggling and help them obtain a treatment plan.

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Article Sources
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