By Eddie Levin
On 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." "Ivory Wave," "Purple Wave," Vanilla Sky," and "Bliss" -- all are among the many street names of a so-called designer drug known as “bath salts,” which has sparked thousands of calls to poison centers across the U.S. over the last year.
What Are Bath Salts?
Bath salts have been around forever but you probably never gave them much thought until recently. The Epsom salts used to help sore feet are not really all that interesting. Or at least, they probably weren’t until someone high on “bath salts” decided to kill his neighbor’s pet goat. But no worries, these aren’t the same “bath salts” you are used to – these new “bath salts” are a unique and dangerous phenomenon of their own. The source of emergency room visits and bizarre headlining crimes has been mislabeled, and we are here to clear up what the question “What is a bath salt?”
The “bath salts” discussed in the media are substances of abuse. They are “designer drugs,” meaning that they are not found in nature and instead are cooked up in a lab. The main drugs being sold as “bath salts” are Methylenedioxypyrovalerone and mephedrone. They are both stimulants that can have a wide variety of effects.
What is Methylenedioxypyrovalerone?
Also known as MDPV, Methylenedioxypyrovalerone is a very powerful chemical. It is apparently the main ingredient in the “Ivory Wave” bath salt brand. It has no medical use. The drug is similar to cocaine in effect, although apparently far less of MDPV is needed to achieve a cocaine-like high. It has also been compared to methamphetamine.
MDPV can provide increased feelings of stimulation and energy, along with increased concentration. However, it may also provide many of the negative effects associated with stimulants: rapid heartbeat, insomnia, fatigue, shaking/twitching, dizziness and overstimulation. Anxiety, paranoia, psychosis, and confusion can also accompany administration of the drug. As is the case with many designer drugs, a lot of the danger comes from the lack of research and regulation attached to it. MDPV has only been used recreationally since 2005 and there is a notable lack of information on the effects of the drug by dosage. Worse, its dosage can vary by brand so it’s not clear how much you may be taking at any given time. Simply put it’s a very risky, dangerous drug, not only because of its expected and unexpected effects, but also because of the lack of information available about the drug, period.
What is mephedrone?
Like MDPV, Mephedrone is a powerful stimulant and a designer drug. It is occasionally marketed as plant food but is also part of some “bath salts.” It has very similar effects to MDPV, ecstasy, and cocaine. The reported sense of well-being produced by mephedrone is more similar to ecstasy than cocaine. Mephedrone’s effects kick in a little sooner than MDPV’s, at about 15-45 minutes after oral administration, or within minutes when snorted. MDPV’s effects last a bit longer and it also takes longer for the effects of the drug to be felt. Hallucinations and paranoia have also been reported with this drug, but these effects seem somewhat less common in mephedrone than MDPV.
Where did these drugs come from?
It seems that both mephedrone and MDPV can be created at home, if you have the right chemicals. Unlike other drugs that can be created at home, like methamphetamine, you cannot currently urine drug test for them unless you use a lab (see below for more details). The chemicals used to create the compounds generally come from India or China. In the case of the packages being sold online and in convenience stores, it appears that some are coming from Europe. Bath salts were recently made illegal in the UK and in most of Europe, and presumably the suppliers had excess product they were interested in shipping. These drugs did not really appear on the scene until anywhere from 2005-2007, and demand is slowly being reduced as state and federal agencies fill the legal loopholes that have so far allowed people to purchase these substances freely.
What is the problem?
The inappropriate use of bath salts has led to some very bizarre and dangerous encounters in the United States. Recent stories traced back to bath salts include a man killing his neighbor’s pet goat while wearing woman’s underwear, various assaults on policemen while experiencing hallucinations, suicides, self-mutilation, and more.
Another danger these drugs present is that, due to the lack of scientific research, doctors are unable to calm patients that are having a bad reaction to the chemical compounds they’ve ingested.
In 2009, reports began surfacing about teens and young adults abusing synthetic stimulant products sold as Bath Salts, “plant fertilizer," energy-1, Ivory Wave, Red Dove, Purple Wave, Blue Silk, Zoom, Bloom, Cloud Nine, Ocean Snow, Lunar Wave, Vanilla Sky, White Lightning, Scarface, and Hurricane Charlie.
The Drug Enforcement Administration's forensic monitoring system found two reports of MDPV in 2009. In 2010 that figure jumped to 338 cases. Between January through September 2011, the numbers skyrocketed to 911 MDPV cases, spanning 34 states.
But there have been more than a hundred reports nationwide of people smoking, snorting, eating, or injecting the bath salts — with ill effects ranging from paranoia to seizures. Doing so is said to produce effects similar to highs from ecstasy (heightening of the senses, sexual arousal) and stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine (euphoria and increased energy). It’s just a good thing that there are actually bath salts rehabs which provide treatment help to those who need it.
Dr. Daniel Brooks, co-medical director of the Department of Medical Toxicology at the Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center in Phoenix, is familiar with mephedrone and MDPV as "relatively novel synthetic stimulants" but says that little academic research has been done on them and that they've never been tested on humans. Medical professionals aren't 100 percent certain how these compounds are metabolized or how they'll react with other drugs. The ingredients in bath salts aren't listed on the packages, so users have no way of knowing what they're actually ingesting.