Photo by DEA
What are synthetic cathinones ("bath salts")?
“Bath salts” is the name given to synthetic cathinones, a class of drugs that have one or more laboratory-made chemicals similar to cathinone. Cathinone is a stimulant found naturally in the khat plant, grown in East Africa and southern Arabia.
Chemically, cathinones are similar to amphetamines such as methamphetamine and to MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly). Common lab-made cathinones found in “bath salts” include 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone, and methylone, but there are many others. These lab-made cathinones can be much stronger than the plant product and can cause harmful effects.
“Bath salts” are usually white or brown crystal-like powder and are sold in small plastic or foil packages labeled “Not for Human Consumption.” They are sometimes labeled as “plant food,” “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 lab-made cathinone products sold as “bath salts” should not be confused with products such as Epsom salts (the original bath salts) that people add to bathwater to help ease stress and relax muscles. Epsom salts are made of a mineral mixture of magnesium and sulfate.
“Bath salts” are sometimes marketed as cheap substitutes for other drugs such as MDMA (Molly or Ecstasy) or cocaine. Methylone, a common chemical in “bath salts”, has been substituted for MDMA in capsules sold as Molly in some places. There is no way to know what is in a dose of “bath salts” other than testing it in a lab.
How "Bath Salts" Are Used
“Bath salts” are usually swallowed, snorted through the nose, inhaled, or injected with a needle. Snorting or injecting is the most harmful.
Banning “Bath Salts”
At the end of the last decade, bath salts began to gain in popularity in the United States and Europe as “legal highs.” In October 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration put an emergency ban on three common lab-made cathinones until officials knew more about them. In July 2012, President Barack Obama signed legislation permanently banning two of them—mephedrone and MDPV, along with several other lab-made drugs often sold as marijuana substitutes (like K2/Spice).
Although the law also bans chemically similar versions of some of these drugs, manufacturers have responded by making new drugs different enough from the banned substances to get around the law. To protect the public, the government is constantly monitoring newer formulas.