Are Bath Salts a Menacing Mountain or a Molehill?Thursday, July 21, 2011 By Sue Wachtman
“Relieve your stress today!” invited Miguel Ashby’s website. Ashby was allegedly supplying bath salts to New York City headshops. Describing a new brand of bath salt called Lindsay, one user on bathsaltsdrugs.com claimed it was “some of the finest and least-harsh bath salt I’ve tried. It was like a mix euphoria and empathy that just kept to keep coming (sic) in waves of ecstasy.” To those in the know, bath salts are either a great stress reliever, or according to The Washington Post, the “next big drug menace.” Mark Ryan, director of Louisiana’s poison control center, was among the first to see that bath salts may be an emerging threat. He reported their effect as “almost like a psychotic break.” Users are “extremely anxious and combative, they think there’s stuff trying to get them, they’re paranoid, they’re having hallucinations.” Alysson Raymond, a student at Mills College in California said, "I was just telling someone about them last night! I've heard about them a lot lately, and nothing good. I read about kids dying and that they're easy to sell/buy because they're labeled as not for ingesting. My question is are they actual bath salts?" They are not. Ryan explained in the Washington Post that cathinone, the parent substance, comes from a plant called khat, grown in Africa. The leaves are commonly chewed for a mild high. Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and mephadrone, however, are “designer drugs,” created in a lab. They are not regulated, because they are not marketed for human consumption. He said he has seen them marketed as growth stimulators, PH optimizers and pond scum removers, but he said, “They were never intended to be any of those things.” Bath salts are sold with names like Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky, Red Dove, and Bliss. They can be snorted, smoked, injected, and even mixed in a beverage. University of Nevada psychology student Tom Buqo said, "It's bringing up a lot of cases in emergency rooms as redosing potential is massive, and it seems to have a large amount of comedown symptoms. As a result, stimulant psychosis and neurological damage rates are relatively high. We've yet to deal with it in my office, but I know of one person who's done it, and she described it as incredibly unpleasant.” Ethan Sanchez, a student at Olympic College in Washington State, said, "I've heard of them, but I've never used them. I think I've heard too many negative aspects of them to find them worth it. I wouldn't want to use them unless I knew that they were safe and whatnot, which is what keeps me at bay." Jennifer Ashton, CBS News Medical Correspondent explained online that in 2009 no reports of bath salt overdoses were made. In 2010, 236 cases of bath salt overdoses were reported to Poison Control Centers across the country. In 2011, there had been 248 by February. More than 35 states have banned at least some of the chemicals commonly found in bath salts, which can include MDPV, mephedone, methylone and 4-MEC. Miguel Ashby, 26, appeared in a Seattle court on June 28, charged with distribution of a controlled substance. The Drug Enforcement Administration arrested ten people and charged them under the Controlled Substances Act. The Federal Analog Act allows any chemical that is “substantially similar” to a controlled substance to be treated as a controlled substance. The DEA defines it this way: A controlled substance analog is a substance which is intended for human consumption and is structurally or pharmacologically substantially similar to or is represented as being similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II substance and is not an approved medication in the United States. (from deadiversion.usdoj.gov, Nov 2001) In Florida, officers in Panama City reported that a man under the influence of bath salts tore a radar unit out of a police car with his teeth, and a woman attacked her mother with a machete, thinking she was a monster. Florida’s attorney general filed an emergency rule banning the sale of bath salts. Store owner Randy Heine told National Public Radio that he was angry about the ban. “These people are out to create crime,” he said. “This product was legal yesterday. Today, it’s illegal.” He said he had to take thousands of dollars worth of stock off his shelves. Heine claimed that the deleterious effects of bath salts have been greatly exaggerated. They are “not more of a hazard than alcohol. How many people every day try to kill themselves doing alcohol? And that’s still legal.” Users agree. According to posts at bathsaltdrugs.com, bath salts are dangerous only when abused, and those trying to ban them have ulterior motives. One user claimed “a HUGE part in the effort to ban bath salts is Drug Cartels. You think they are just gonna let people sell a product legally online, which is BETTER than theirs, and cheaper, all while not having to do any smuggling/ money laundering/ cop evading? (Capitals theirs.) “The people that are taking bath salts like White Dragon and Ultra Molly and dying, already know what they are doing. They know it is legal and will give them an intense high just like the meth or crack they just ran out of. They then push it to the limit and end up doing way too much, resulting in another drug baser death. It’s not the bath salts themselves; it’s the PEOPLE.” Rodger Seratt of Naylor, Mo., is suing Stoddard County for alleged civil rights violations when they seized hundreds of packages of suspected synthetic drugs from six stores. Stoddard County Prosecuting Attorney Russ Oliver said the products were voluntarily surrendered. Seratt admitted that the drugs can be harmful. He told the Southeast Missourian, "It is wrong for law enforcement like in Stoddard County to make up a pretext like they did and break the law to stop something they don't like." He pointed out that the law banning them does not go into effect until August 28, but the products were seized in July. New York State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein recently introduced his first bill ever to be signed into law in February. The law bans the sale of certain bath salts. Braunstein said, "Me and some of my staff early on had read reports from other states about people taking these drugs and exhibiting some really bizarre behavior afterwards, like running around in the streets naked and committing murders. We thought if it's a problem down there, then it can happen here, and we'd better nip it in the bud." Are bath salts a menace or a blessing? It’s really too early to tell. Although their defenders are somewhat incoherent, they make some good points. Due process should be followed no matter how strongly law enforcement representatives feel about the issue. If a ban has not yet gone into effect, then they should not be pulling them off store shelves. Hearsay from other states does not justify outlawing a product. And if the Analog Act specifies that only drugs marketed for human consumption can be outlawed, then bath salts should be exempt under that law. If bath salts are to be banned, then the evidence should be gathered from the Poison Control Centers and a law should be passed which applies to them. It’s unfortunate that some people may suffer in the meantime, but I am forced to agree with the user who said that people are choosing to consume these products that are labeled not for human consumption. We cannot protect all the stupid and reckless people in the world. And we should not attempt to protect them if it means disregarding due process, because that is a much greater danger, in the long run, to us all. Note on spelling: The U.S. Federal Analogue Act spells the term "analogue", although this is an archaic spelling not normally used in U.S. English. Other laws, such as the California State Analog act and most discussions of the concept fall back on the more standard, modern "analog" spelling according to Erowid.org, a drug information site.