One Saturday night in Miami, a naked “zombie-like” man attacked another man, biting off parts of his face. The attack was halted only when police shot and killed the attacker, identified as 31-year old Rudy Eugene. What would make someone attack another man like an animal? Armando Aguilar, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, suspects that the attacker was under the influence of drugs known as “bath salts.” These aren’t the same bath salts to make your tub water smell nice. “Bath salts” is just a fake name, but users know it’s not really for the bath.
Bath salts contain amphetamine-like chemicals such as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone, and pyrovalerone. They’re referred to as a “designer drug of the phenethylamine class” by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Other drugs in this class include amphetamines, mescaline, and ephedrine. MDPV comes in a powdered form that is inhaled, swallowed or shot into a vein. Bath Salts are sold as “cocaine substitutes” or “synthetic LSD”.
Are bath salts addictive? Yes, they probably are, and for roughly the same reason that ecstasy is addictive — they cause the brain to limit reuptake of dopamine, which means more of the neurochemical is available in the brain and the brain really likes that. Over time the effect diminishes and more of the drug is required to keep the ball rolling. All a buyer knows is that they’ve paid $50 for a pouch of crystallized powder. At first they use a little and experience a bit of a boost, then a little more to keep the boost going, and so forth until their pouch of Ivory Wave is empty.
When your brain is hit with that much psychoactive stimulant, the nervous system overloads and all of the brain’s hardwired threat alarms go off. The predictable result is paranoia, panic attacks, mood swings and reckless behavior. Plus, another effect called hyperthermia kicks in, which means that your body is overheating because it can’t dissipate heat quickly enough to keep you cooled down. When you add all of those effects together, you get the “dark hell” many people describe after their first, and often their last, experience with the drugs.
The second main reason bath salts are dangerous is that when your brain is going through the roof, you can’t sleep. One of the things bath salt users commonly report is that they tried taking a sedative, like Xanax, to counter the effects of the drugs so they could fall asleep, but it didn’t work. This is the equivalent of trying to stop a freight train barreling down the track at 150 mph with a Toyota. Or even ten Toyotas. Once your nervous system has gone loco, and there’s still a lot of the stimulant in your system to keep the train moving, low dose sedatives aren’t going to stop it. When the brain can’t sleep, nothing good will result. Sleep deprivation effects range from depression to psychosis depending on length of time. At the very least, not sleeping results in elevated stress hormone levels, presumably because the brain is reacting to perceived danger. This effect compounds the nervous system effects the drugs are already busily catalyzing.