Bath Salts 10 Times More Addictive Than Meth, Study Finds
Of all of the recent designer drugs that have hit the market, few have attracted the level of attention as bath salts. The drugs were initially blamed for the zombie-like, cannibalistic attack in Florida last year, but it was later found that marijuana was the only drug in the attacker’s system. Regardless, the addictiveness of bath salts and the risks associated with their use have become more well-known, leading to a U.S. ban of many of the drugs. Their potency, however, has meant that many users still take them and expose themselves to these risks. They might not turn users into cannibals, but new research suggests that the drugs are actually much more addictive than methamphetamines.
What Are Bath Salts?
They definitely aren’t chemicals you use when you take a bath—they’re just marketed as such in order to make legal punishment more difficult to rain down on the producers. Bath salts are essentially stimulant drugs that have comparable effects to amphetamines and MDMA. In essence, there are several different types of bath salts, and they can be more accurately described as synthetic cathinone compounds—like the active substance in the drug khat. You can’t really know which chemicals are in the substance you’re taking.
There are many risks associated with the drug, with reports of chest pain, rapid heartbeat, aggressive behavior, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and high blood pressure. Studies on the substances are limited, however, because they’re relatively new, and it’s merely assumed that the long-term effects are comparable to those of methamphetamines because of the chemical similarities. In 2012, there were more than 2,600 calls to poison control centers about exposure to bath salts.
These issues (and the relative scarcity of studies addressing the drugs) led some researchers to look at one specific cathinone compound, 3, 4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone—or simply MDPV. The researchers used rats—which have similar neurological “reward” pathways to humans and are therefore useful for studying addiction—that had been trained to press a lever for a reward. They initially received food for their lever-presses, but the researchers had them hooked up to an intravenous infusion of drugs, which became activated for the study period. The rats received MDPV or methamphetamine, with the aim of investigating the differing effects of both drugs.
The most shocking result from the research is the finding that the rats who were hooked up to the MDPV pressed the lever for a dose significantly more often than those who had methamphetamine. The researchers point out that the number of lever-presses is analogous to the amount of effort the rats are willing to put in to get a dose of the drug. The rats pressed the lever an average of 60 times to get access to meth, whereas for MDPV the number was 10 times higher, at an average of 600 presses. The results seem to show that bath salts are exponentially more addictive than methamphetamine, with some rats pressing the lever up to 3,000 times for a single dose.
Additionally, the researchers also looked at the repetitive behaviors that are common in humans who take bath salts. They found that the rats receiving higher doses of MDPV displayed many similar behaviors, such as excessive licking, skin-picking and teeth-grinding. The researchers reported that some of the MDPV-dosed rats were so intent on licking the transparent walls of their cages that they were unable to interrupt them.
These findings serve as evidence that bath salts could be notably more addictive than meth, according to the researchers, and they concluded that the potency of the drug means that it’s likely to stick around despite its now illegal status. In other words, the study suggests that bath salts are so addictive that they may join the ranks of commonly abused illegal drugs, rather than being replaced by another temporarily legal designer drug.
Of course, the major problem when it comes to bath salts is in the wide variety of substances and the fact that long-term studies are currently unavailable. The researchers are moving on to both of these areas for future studies and plan to investigate the long-term behavioral impacts of bath salt abuse and the different effects of the newly produced cathinone drugs. The story comes as a stark reminder that legality doesn’t equal safety when it comes to drugs—in fact, the changes made to their chemical structures in order to skirt existing legislation could make them even more dangerous. Bath salts are particularly susceptible to this, because there isn’t one “formula” for the drug—one batch could be drastically, fatally different from another and the user would have no way of knowing.