How "˜Bath Salts' Can Make People Crazy: A HealthCentral Explainer

Why are ‘bath salts’ in the news?

Recently, stories have been in the news about bizarre cases where an attacker chewed on the face of another person. In both cases, reports suggested that “bath salts” may have played a role in the strange, violent attacks.  This, unfortunately, may be confusing people who think they’re talking about the same kind of bath salts you use to relax in the tub. Not at all.  The new “bath salts” are a  mash-up of synthetic amphetamine-like chemicals, and they can be highly dangerous.

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What exactly are these “bath salts?”

Bath salts are a designer drug, meaning it’s a synthetic analog or derivative of an existing illegal drug. Because of this, bath salts can be sold legally online and at drug paraphernalia stores. They come under a variety of names, including “Ivory Wave,” “Red Dove,” “White Lightning,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Cloud Nine,” according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. The known ingredients in bath salts are methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MPDV) and mephedrone. MDPV is a stimulant and a psychoactive drug, meaning it can change neurochemical function, causing sharp changes in mood, thought, perception and behavior.

This can lead to someone becoming panicked and paranoid. Mephedrone is also a stimulant.  Neither drug, however, is a hallucinogen. Hallucinogens, rather than merely amplifying conscious states, significantly alter normal consciousness and they could be part of the hodge-podge of drugs included in bath salts. This is what can make bath salts so dangerous – health and law enforcement authorities don’t know the precise chemical composition.

In addition, it seems bath salts can be very addictive. One study compared bath salts and MDMA, or ecstasy, in mice and found similar effects on dopamine and serotonin levels. Both drugs limit the re-uptake of dopamine, making more of it available in the brain. Over time, however, the effect wears off, meaning more of the drug is required to achieve the same effect.

How are people using bath salts?

Bath salts typically are inhaled or injected, with the worst effects associated with snorting or intravenous injection.

Why are they dangerous?

Bath salts are dangerous for several reasons, the first being that the chemical composition is largely unknown, as are the short- and long-term effects.  Second, there are no dosages for bath salts, meaning someone could use a batch all in one sitting. Anecdotally, this seems to be when people experience overwhelmingly bad outcomes. Their  brains become overloaded with psychoactive stimulant, which causes the nervous system to go haywire. The result can be paranoia, panic, mood swings and reckless behavior. Hyperthermia also is a concern, as the body is unable to release heat quickly enough for it to cool down. A third reason bath salts are dangerous is they can result in a lack of sleep, according to David DiSalvo, a contributor at Sleep deprivation combined with the other effects of bath salts could lead to depression and psychosis. However, DiSalvo points out that in the extreme cases in the news recently,  the people taking the drug likely already had dangerous tendencies that were amplified.

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What’s being done about it?

Recently the Senate passed a Food and Drug Administration bill that would ban many of the chemicals found in bath salts and other synthetic drugs. However, the same bill has not  yet been passed in House of Representatives, due to questions about which chemicals to ban and how to sentence synthetic drug traffickers.

Many states have also taken measures to ban certain synthetic drugs and last year the Drug Enforcement Agency attempted  to make many synthetic drugs illegal. However, manufacturers have been able to get around the ban by altering the chemical makeup of the drugs.


Koebler, Jason. (June 1, 2012). Miami ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ Puts Bath Salts Ban in Congressional Spotlight. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from

DiSalvo, David. (June 5, 2012). The Straight Dope on What Bath Salts Do To Your Brain and Why They’re Dangerous. Forbes. Retrieved from

Volkow, M.D., Nora. (Feburary, 2011). “Bath Salts” – Emerging and Dangerous Products. National Institute of Drug Abuse. Retrieved from

Neuropsychopharmacology. (April 2012). The Designer Methcathinone Analogs, Mephedrone and Methylone, are Substrates for Monoamine Transports in Brain Tissue. Retrieved from