Bath salts or synthetic cathinones are used as a cheap and easily accessible alternative to other illicit stimulants like methamphetamine, cocaine and MDMA. Bath salts are abused due to their psychostimulant properties.
Using bath salts can be dangerous especially at high doses and may result in psychosis, agitation, organ failure and even death. Long-term use of bath salts can result in dependence and addiction.
Bath Salt Abuse & Addiction
Repeated use of bath salts has been reported to result in increased tolerance, with higher doses of drug required to achieve the same pleasurable effects experienced previously. Frequent use of bath salts can lead to dependence on the drug. This means taking the drug becomes necessary for the user to function normally. Attempts to discontinue use may result in withdrawal symptoms like depression, anxiety, fatigue and intense craving.
Many users develop an addiction to bath salts and are unable to control their use of the drug, despite negative social consequences. According to a survey of Scottish college students, 17.6% of those who used bath salts reported symptoms of addiction or dependence.
Effects of Bath Salt Abuse & Addiction
Bath salts are used for their ability to produce an elevated mood, disinhibition, increased energy, euphoria and increased libido. These effects are similar to many of the effects produced by cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA. But bath salts can also produce adverse effects even at low doses. High doses can have life-threatening consequences.
Some of the mild to moderate short-term effects observed at low doses include:
- Agitation – one of the hallmarks of bath salt use
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Reduced appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilation of pupils
- Muscle twitches
- Excessive sweating
- Dryness of mouth
- Abdominal pain
- Cognitive deficits involving short-term memory, attention and concentration
At higher doses, bath salts can produce severe side-effects, including:
- Difficulty breathing
- Reduced sodium levels in the blood
- Psychosis involving hallucinations and paranoia
- Agitated delirium involving violent and unpredictable behavior that may lead to self-harm or harm to others
- Panic attacks
- Rhabdomyolysis or skeletal muscle tissue breakdown
- Kidney damage
- Liver failure
- Myocarditis involving inflammation of the heart muscles
Regular use of bath salts can lead to dependence on the drug and addiction. A bath salt addiction is characterized by intense cravings, tolerance, and an inability to stop using the drug, despite the negative health consequences.
There is very little established scientific evidence on the long-term effects of bath salts. Anecdotal evidence suggests the development of depression and some animal studies indicate potential memory impairment. Aside from dependence and addiction, some of the long-term effects of bath salts may include:
- Seizures caused due to high doses of the drug may lead to an inadequate supply of oxygen to the brain. This may lead to permanent brain damage since neurons are extremely sensitive to the lack of oxygen.
- Development of skin rashes
- Regular nasal intake of bath salts over a limited duration (1-3 months) leads to nosebleeds. Over a longer duration, it may lead to perforation of the nasal septum, similar to cocaine.
- Neurotoxic effects involving impaired functioning of serotonin neurons.
Signs & Symptoms of Bath Salt Addiction
As noted above, there is very limited scientific research about the long-term effects of bath salt use, including addiction to bath salts. However, some of the symptoms associated with using bath salts may also serve as signs for recognizing a bath salt addiction.
Some of the potential psychological symptoms of bath salt addiction may include:
Behavioral signs of a bath salt addiction generally involve agitation and unpredictable behavior. Other behavioral signs may include:
- Teeth grinding or bruxism
- Difficulty focusing
Some of the physical signs of bath salt addiction may include:
- Weight loss
- Excessive sweating
- Skin rashes
- Nose bleeds (if the drug is snorted)
Potential Co-Occurring Disorders
Bath salts belong to the phenylethylamine family that includes amphetamines and MDMA. There is considerable overlap in the effects produced by bath salts and other stimulants like methamphetamine, MDMA and cocaine.
Both methamphetamine and cocaine addiction frequently co-occur with depressive, anxiety, and psychotic disorders. This suggests a high likelihood of these co-occurring disorders with addiction to bath salts.
Methamphetamine and cocaine addiction are known to co-occur with other substance use disorders and since bath salts are very frequently used with other substances, addiction to bath salts may co-occur with other substance use disorders.
Bath Salt Addiction Statistics
According to the 2018 Monitoring the Future report, a national survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 0.7% of youth in grades 8,10 and 12 had used bath salts in the previous year in 2018, compared to 0.5% in 2017.
In a study based on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health collected between the years 2009-2013, 0.048 % of individuals aged between 12-34 years had used psychostimulant designer drugs (including both bath salts and phenethylamines).
Getting Help For Addiction
Treatment for bath salt addiction begins with detoxification and the complete elimination of the drug from the system. Treatment at an inpatient or outpatient detox can help the individual cope with any adverse withdrawal symptoms, like depression, anxiety and drug cravings, with the help of medications and behavioral therapy.
Following detoxification, enrollment at an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation center is generally necessary for bath salt addiction treatment. Treatment usually involves various behavioral approaches, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy and contingency management programs. These behavioral approaches help the individual to identify the causes of drug use and teach them strategies to resist drug use. There are currently no medications approved for the treatment of bath salt addiction.
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Dargan, P. I., S. Albert, and D. M. Wood. “Mephedrone use and associated adverse effects in school and college/university students before the UK legislation change.” QJM: An International Journal of Medicine July 2010. Accessed July 29, 2019.
German, Christopher L., Annette E. Fleckenstein, and Glen R. Hanson. “Bath salts and synthetic cathinones: an emerging designer drug phenomenon.” Life sciences, February 2014. Accessed July 29, 2019.
Palamar, Joseph J., Silvia S. Martins, Mark K. Su, and Danielle C. Ompad. “Self-reported use of novel psychoactive substances in a US nationally representative survey: Prevalence, correlates, and a call for new survey methods to prevent underreporting.” Drug and alcohol dependence. November 2015. Accessed July 29, 2019.
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