Bath salts, otherwise known as Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), have made headlines across the United States and Canada due to the latest "zombie attack" last week. But what is this psychoactive drug and where did it originate?
“Bath salts took over my mind,” said Jimmy Harris, 25, in an interview with NBC last year. Harris explained his experience with bath salts, which he says gave him hallucinations after just snorting it once. One of his hallucinations consisted of a federal agent pointing a gun at him under a bridge; he later realized that the officer was not real.
Over the weekend, 31-year-old Rudy Eugene was shot dead by a Miami police officer after the perpetrator was ripping into a man’s face with his teeth. It was later confirmed that 75 percent of the man’s face was chewed off, including the victim’s skin, neck and eyeballs. Eugene was reportedly growling as he had flesh hanging out of his mouth.
The culprit may have been under the influence of the powerful psychedelic drug known as bath salts.
Another user named John, who did not provide his real name and spoke on the condition of anonymity, sat down with the CBC to discuss his experience with bath salts. He presented the same occurrences as many others have and is warning about the dangers of this substance.
“Felt like I wanted to kill me or kill somebody else,” said John. “Horrible feeling of sketchiness, constantly looking over your shoulder or peeking out around your curtains or windows, hiding under the blankets.”
These are only some of the instances related to this latest drug epidemic. But what are bath salts? How did it originate? What is it made up of? For one thing, bath salts are definitely not the products you put in your bath tub unless you are snorting it when you’re taking a bath.
It’s called a designer drug and has various names, including “Cloud Nine,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Snow Blow.” It was first created in 1969 by Boehringer Ingelheim as a compound to combat chronic fatigue, but there were serious side effects, such as dependence and addiction, so it was never marketed. It was relatively unknown until about 10 years ago when it started to make its way into convenience stores, nightclubs and schools as a recreational drug, but according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is extremely dangerous.
People use it by inhalation, injection or snorting. Bath salts are composed of MDPV, mephedrone and pyrovalerone and because of its chemical composition it can establish short- and long-term effects for the users. Individuals who consume bath salts desire a euphoric feeling that can also increase energy, arousal, sociability and motivation. However, the actual results are frightening as bath salts can lead to suicidal thoughts, paranoia, psychotic delusions and violent behaviour.
Reports began to surface in 2009 when teenagers and young adults started to show up to the emergency room and admit to abusing such synthetic products. Since then, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s monitoring system found that the number of reports jumped from two in 2009 to 338 a year later and 911 in 2011 across 34 states.
Bath salts are not illegal in Canada or in parts of the United States (Australia and the United Kingdom banned it) because producers of the product have been able to evade laws by labelling it as “not for human consumption.” Experts say it is inevitable it will become illegal and be banned.
“Pretty much all of these chemicals will end up permanently banned," said Zane Horowitz, an MD emergency room physician and medical director of the Oregon Poison Center, in an interview with WebMD.com.
"But it's easy to say, 'We've banned them.' It's something else to police them and make them go away. Cocaine, heroin, [and] marijuana are illegal, but they are all still out there. Designer drugs like bath salts never really go away. How people make them and how they sell them are the only things that change. People will abuse them until there's a crisis that brings attention to them, then they will disappear and a new drug will come along to fill the void."
As an investigation by Chris Hansen of NBC showed last year, there is a chance for many producers to earn a substantial amount of money – a very small container can sell for around $80 – and stores admit it’s an easier money-maker.
With a significant profit-motive at stake, is there a chance to stop it? When Hansen interviewed a producer, the man revealed that he already had a secret formula ready to go if bath salts became illegal.
Horowitz also warned in his interview that it is hard to keep up with these designer drugs.
“Drug makers will keep creating new combinations at home and in illicit labs,” added Horowitz. “It’s almost impossible to keep up. And the motivation for buying them is always the same: Drugs like these are new and below the radar, unlike named illegal drugs.”
As the general public is now shocked by the “zombie attack” in Miami and is becoming astute of the problem at hand, what will befall of these bath salts? A new drug will be formed by a creative chemist.