Compulsive Acts

A psychiatrist's tales of ritual and obsession.

Bath Salts

Not Your Typical Spa Trip

Not long ago, the mention of “bath salts” may have conjured up scenes of pampering and ultra-relaxation, perhaps in a spa setting or a five-star resort. More and more, however, bath salts are the street name for a new family of synthetic chemicals that people are getting high on, including mephedrone, pyrovalerone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone. On the drug market, these are the “new kid on the block”, and doctors in emergency rooms and on psychiatric wards across the country are quickly becoming familiar with their strange trip and harmful effects.

As reported in the journal Clinical Psychiatry News, there were 6,959 calls to poison control centers regarding bath salts last year compared to only 304 calls in 2010. The ease of finding bath salts—they are often sold legally in smoke shops, gas stations and convenience stores, typically labeled “not for human consumption” to avoid regulation—undoubtedly contributes to their widespread use and increasing popularity. When ingested, snorted or smoked, bath salts can cause a variety of severe short and long term effects, including hallucinations, chest pains, seizures, and extreme paranoia. Curiously, bath salt users seem more likely compared to other drug users to attack paramedics and emergency room staff trying to help them—something that may speak to the level of paranoia and agitation that bath salts can trigger. More ominously, over 30 fatalities nationwide have been linked to bath salts.

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It is too early to predict that we are at the front end of another drug epidemic and that bath salts will become the crack or crystal meth of this decade. Still, these chemicals seem too dangerous to be looked at as a passing fad, and now is the time to promote awareness, vigilance and research around them. Over 38 states have acted to control one or more of the synthetic chemicals involved, but much more work needs to be done before “bath salts” can once again inspire comfort and peace.

Dr. Aboujaoude is a psychiatrist and author based at Stanford University. His most recent book is Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality.

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