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Bath Salts. Abuse, Signs and Treatment

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA1 defines bath salts as synthetic, lab-produced, “designer” drugs. The term is used to categorize many drugs produced this way. As it is a broad term, it is not easy to know exactly what each drug contains. The thing these drugs have in common is that they are synthetic cathinones2 Cathinones are chemicals found in an East African shrub called “khat,” known for its psychoactive properties. Synthetic cathinones are often far more potent than natural cathinones found in khat and can be extremely dangerous because of this.

Indigenous people in East Africa and some parts of the Middle East chew khat to experience mild effects commonly associated with stimulants. It is important not to confuse khat and bath salts; although they are chemically similar, bath salts are significantly stronger, often contain unknown ingredients, and usually take the form of brown or white crystalized powders.

Bath salts are unregulated in production and usually come in foil or plastic packaging that states it is not for human consumption. Initially, bath salts were for sale as, “legal highs,” in head shops and liquor stores. However, they are now classified as Schedule I by the DEA and are no longer for sale on a large scale. However, they are still available online on certain websites and are often have the label of, “legal cocaine.” They are also commonly referred to by street names such as, “White Lightning,” and “Flakka.”

When these synthetic drugs were for sale on a larger scale, many retailers would sell them as, “phone screen cleaners,” “plant food,” or “bath salts,” (which is how they got their name). Read on to find out more about bath salts’ side effects.

Understanding DEA Categorization

Under the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), bath salts are Schedule I3 This means they have no medicinal use, are unregulated, and are produced to imitate the effects of illicit substances. They can also be very dangerous when consumed and lead to dependence or addiction.


Like many other drugs, there are several ways to consume bath salts. People usually smoke, snort, swallow, or sometimes inject synthetic cathinones. Snorting the substance is the most common method of use.

Bath Salts Side Effects on the Body and Brain

People commonly use bath salts to provoke feelings and physical effects that resemble those associated with drugs such as MDMA, cocaine, amphetamines, and other stimulants. However, because of the lack of regulation in the production of these synthetic substances, they can have even more significant effects on the body and brain.

Some of the stimulant effects often experienced by users are:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased talking
  • High sex drive
  • Increased concentration
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia

More Bath Salts Side Effects

As well as the effects associated with the, “high,” produced by the drug, there are also a significant number of bath salts side effects associated with consumption. Common side effects can include:

  • Pain in the chest
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Hyperthermia
  • Muscle tremors
  • Dilated pupils
  • Blood vessel constriction
  • Seizures
  • Changes to appetite

The above list includes acute bath salts side effects. However, higher dosage and regular use can lead to more extreme side effects. Some examples of these are:

  • Paranoia
  • Feeling confused
  • Violent outbursts
  • Panic attacks
  • Psychosis

There are also reports of death relating to accidental overdose4 and suicide5 where bath salts were present in the body. Some individuals have displayed extremely violent outbursts while under the influence of bath salts. Because of the psychosis that can occur while taking the drug, self-injury and injury to others is prevalent with bath salts consumption. Renal failure and rhabdomyolysis can also occur with substantial overdoses.

Additional side effects recorded by the New England Journal of Medicine6 include swelling of the brain, breathing problems, hyperactivity, delirium, suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of self-harm. They also noted that there is an increased risk of heart attack or stroke when using the drug. There is also a likelihood of experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety when, “coming down,” from the drug, when, “high,” on the drug, or with continued use. Bath salts can cause lasting and serious damage to the brain and the body.

Useful Information – Street Names

As well as, “bath salts,” there are many names associated with synthetic cathinones; knowing these can help determine the drug that you or your loved one is taking. Although some people online refer to the drug as, “legal cocaine,” or, “legal meth,” some street dealers may sell synthetic cathinones as, “molly.” Most people associate, “molly,” with MDMA, but it is important to know that some products sold under this name either online or by street dealers may not contain any MDMA.

Other names you may come across are Vanilla Sky, Scarface, White Lightning, Bloom, Meow Meow, Drone, Flakka, Sextasy, Red Dove, or Plant Food. There are also many other names, but these are the most common.

Intoxication & Bath Salts Side Effects

Like other common illicit drugs, bath salts have a typical timeline that users experience after ingesting the substance. A user may feel, “high,” on the drug for around 4–8 hours depending on its potency. The, “come down,” can last for 48 hours, but users can experience effects such as high blood pressure or an increased heart rate for longer than this. Some users may also experience psychosis for a long period after the substance leaves the body.


Like many drugs, bath salts can be addictive. Many users feel an intense need to continue using bath salts and may experience withdrawal symptoms including tremors, paranoia, sleep issues, anxiety, and depression. An addiction involving bath salts can have a substantial effect on an individual’s life and the lives of those around them.

Recognizing Addiction

If you have concerns about your own use of bath salts or think that a loved one may have an addiction, there are several signs to be aware of. These include:

Increased irritability: An addict may act more irritable than they normally would.

Paranoia: A bath salts user may display symptoms of paranoia regularly, thinking someone is after them or something bad is going to happen. They may jump to conclusions, think that everyone is against them or have issues with trust.

Hallucinations: These may include hearing voices or seeing things that are not there. An addict may often be in a state of confusion, talking to themselves, or moving strangely because of the hallucinations they are experiencing.

Tremors/shaking: This is a typical withdrawal symptom. Some users may also experience tremors when under the influence of bath salts.

Depression: An addict may seem in a state of depression regularly. Symptoms of depression may include low mood, lack of interest or motivation, and neglecting self-care and hygiene.

Self-harm: A bath salts addict may display signs of self-harm. They may have cuts on their arms, legs, or other parts of their body. Some users may act on impulses that come with bath salts-related psychosis. This can sometimes mean harming oneself in an extreme way.

Violent behavior: There have been cases of violence against others from bath salts addicts. An addict may lash out at loved ones, even if they have no previous history of displaying this kind of behavior.

Neglecting appearance and hygiene: An addict may start to neglect themselves. This means they may not wash as often as they used to, wear the same clothes a lot, and smell of body odor. They may also smell of the substance that they use, in this case, bath salts. Some people report bath salts as smelling like cat urine. The scent may expel through the pores through sweating.

Increased financial need: If you are unsure whether your loved one has an addiction, an increased need to borrow money can be a sign to watch out for. They may borrow money from you or others and take out loans or credit cards suddenly.

Weight loss: An individual with a bath salts addiction may show signs of weight loss and malnourishment. This often shows around the face and neck first, but users may begin to lose weight in all areas of their body over time and appear malnourished.

Breakouts of acne: Bath salts can cause skin problems such as acne. Addicts may develop acne on their faces, necks, back, and chest.

Unusual sleep patterns: Because bath salts have a stimulating effect on the body, addicts may have trouble sleeping at night. This can lead to them staying up all night and sleeping in the day.

Bath Salts Recovery

If you think you have an addiction to bath salts, it can be beneficial to seek treatment. You may feel as if the drug is taking over your life, experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, and have an overwhelming urge to continue using it. Admitting that you are addicted to a substance can be difficult to admit and addicts often deny they have a substance use issue for a long time.

You should be proud of yourself for recognizing your substance use issues and considering entering a recovery program.

Admitting your addiction is the first step to recovery. If you feel you are ready to take the next step and seek treatment, we can help. Contact us to see what we can offer. There are several treatment options available to addicts who want to seek help in a non-judgmental and empathetic environment.

Families of Bath Salts Addicts

If you think your loved one has an addiction to bath salts, you may want to see them enter treatment. It can be challenging to get your loved one into a recovery program if they are in denial about their addiction. It is important that you understand the stage they are at in their addiction and plan your approach accordingly. If you want to help your loved one, you will need to take a sensitive approach and offer support throughout their recovery journey.

Your loved one’s addiction may have a huge impact on you. Many people forget to consider the families of addicts in the recovery process, but for most family members, their loved one’s addiction has changed their lives too. Your family dynamics may have changed as well as your financial situation and the connection you have with your loved one. It is important to show yourself some compassion and praise yourself for seeking help for your loved one.

Encouraging a Loved One to Seek Help

It is important to remember that although you may want your loved one to enter recovery, they may not be ready. Many drug users will be in denial about their addictions. It is crucial to remember that this is very common. If you want to talk to your loved one about entering recovery, then there are several things you should do to increase the chances of them recognizing their problems and agreeing to treatment.

Approach them at the right time. Sometimes it can feel that there is never the right time to have such a sensitive conversation. However, with an addict, timing is of great importance. Never try to encourage your loved one to seek treatment when they are, “high,” or, “coming down.”

Express concern, not anger. You may be upset or even furious about your loved one’s addiction. It is likely that their addiction has been the cause of many problems for you. Try to put your anger aside for now; compassion and concern will encourage them to seek help, not anger.

Consider an intervention with others. Sometimes it can help for an addict to have several loved ones expressing concern for them. If other family members feel the same as you about your loved one’s substance use, then it may help to include them in the conversation. This may not be the right approach, so use tact. There are also professionals who can help you and join an intervention with your loved one. Sometimes a professional is a better option as they can present as an unbiased third party and can aid in mediation.

Reach Out

If you feel ready to take the next step and arrange treatment for yourself or your loved one, reach out to us. You can email or call us whenever you are ready. We know it can be scary and that it is a big step, but we help families and individuals in the same position as you all the time. There is hope — a happy and substance-free life is possible.

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