Also known as: “Bloom,” “Cloud Nine,” “Vanilla Sky,” “White Lightning,” and “Scarface”
“Bath salts” is the name given to a family of drugs that have one or more manmade chemicals related to cathinone. Cathinone is an amphetamine-like stimulant found naturally in the khat plant. Chemically, they are similar to other amphetamines such as methamphetamine and to MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly). Common manmade cathinones found in bath salts include 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone (“Drone,” “Meph,” or “Meow Meow”), and methylone, but there are many others.
Bath salts are usually white or brown crystal-like powder and are sold in small plastic or foil packages labeled “Not for Human Consumption.” Sometimes labeled as “plant food”—or, more recently, as “jewelry cleaner” or “phone screen cleaner”—they are sold online and in drug product stores. These names or descriptions have nothing to do with the product. It’s a way for the drug makers to avoid detection by the Drug Enforcement Administration or local police.
The manmade cathinone products sold as “bath salts” should not be confused with Epsom salts (the original bath salts), which are made of a mineral mixture of magnesium and sulfate and are added to bathwater to help ease stress and relax muscles.
Use of bath salts sometimes causes severe intoxication (a person seems very drunk or “out of it”) and dangerous health effects. There are even reports of people becoming psychotic (losing touch with reality) and violent. Deaths have been reported in several cases. In addition, people who believe they are taking drugs such as MDMA (Molly or Ecstasy) may be getting bath salts instead. Methylone, a common chemical in bath salts, has been substituted for MDMA in capsules sold as Molly in Florida.
Banning Bath Salts
When bath salts showed up at the end of the last decade, they quickly became popular in the United States and Europe as “legal highs.” In October 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration put an emergency ban on three common manmade cathinones until officials knew more about them. In July 2012, President Barack Obama signed legislation permanently making two of them—mephedrone and MDPV—illegal, along with several other manmade drugs often sold as marijuana substitutes (like Spice).
Although the law also bans chemically similar “analogues” of the named drugs, manufacturers respond by making new drugs different enough from the banned substances to get around the law.
Bath salts can be swallowed, snorted through the nose, inhaled, or injected with a needle. The worst results come from snorting or injecting.
The manmade cathinones in bath salts can produce feelings of joy and increased social interaction and sex drive. These chemicals can also cause people to feel paranoid and nervous and to have hallucinations (see or hear things that are not real). There is a lot we still don’t know about how the different chemicals in bath salts affect the brain.
The energizing and often agitating effects reported in people who have taken bath salts are similar to the effects of other drugs like amphetamines and cocaine. These drugs raise the level of dopamine in brain paths that control reward and movement. Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter (a substance that passes messages between nerve cells) that makes people feel good when they do something they enjoy. A rush of dopamine causes feelings of joy and increased activity and can also raise heart rate and blood pressure. (Learn more about how neurotransmitters work.)
A recent study found that MDPV—the most common manmade cathinone found in the blood and urine of patients admitted to emergency rooms after taking bath salts—raises brain dopamine in the same way as cocaine but is at least 10 times stronger.
Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs.
In 2011, bath salts were reported in nearly 23,000 emergency room visits.1 Reports show bath salts users have needed help for heart problems (such as racing heart, high blood pressure, and chest pains) and symptoms like paranoia, hallucinations, and panic attacks.
Patients with the syndrome known as “excited delirium” from taking bath salts also may have dehydration, breakdown of muscle tissue attached to bones, and kidney failure. Intoxication from several manmade cathinones including MDPV, mephedrone, methedrone, and butylone has caused the death of several people.
Another danger of bath salts is that these products may contain other ingredients that may cause their own harmful effects. There is no way to know what is in a dose of bath salts other than testing it in a lab.
1Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. The DAWN Report. “Bath Salts” Were Involved in over 20,000 Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits in 2011. Rockville, MD, September 17, 2013. Available at: http://media.samhsa.gov/data/spotlight/spot117-bath-salts-2013.pdf [560 KB].
Yes. Research shows and bath salts users have reported that the drugs cause an intense urge to use the drug again and that they are highly addictive. Frequent use may cause tolerance (a person needs to take more to feel the same effects), dependence, and strong withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug.
Bath salts have been involved in thousands of visits to the emergency room. In 2011 alone, there were 22,904 reports of bath salts use during emergency room visits. About two thirds of those visits involved bath salts in combination with other drugs.
In addition, poison centers took more than 6,000 calls about exposures to bath salts. That number dropped to just under 1,000 calls in 2013.2
See the most recent statistics on teen bath salt use from NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study below:
|Bath Salts||Past Year||1.00||.90||.90|
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The DAWN Report: “Bath Salts” were Involved in over 20,000 Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits in 2011. Rockville, MD, September 17, 2013, http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k10/DAWN034/EDHighlights.htm.
For more statistics on teen drug use, see NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study.
2American Association of Poison Control Centers. Bath Salts. Arlington, VA, Available at: http://www.aapcc.org/alerts/bath-salts/.
If you or a friend are in crisis and need to speak with someone now, please call:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don't just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by).
If you need information on treatment and where you can find it, you can call:
- Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator at 1-800-662-HELP or visit www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov.
For more information on how to help a friend or loved one, visit our Have a Drug Problem, Need Help? page.
Statistics and Trends
Monitoring the Future (University of Michigan):
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: