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'Bath Salts' Are the Latest U.S. Media Hysteria Drug

A new drug sold legally in head shops as "bath salts" is getting a lot of media attention that may be doing more harm than good.

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As with every other substance, quantity and manner of consumption are important indicators of the intensity and type of high users will experience. Bath salts are typically injected, snorted or smoked: Shooting bath salts will lead to a quicker intoxication or “rush,” while smoking bath salts can elicit a more intense high than snorting. The DEA's Office of Diversion Control noted that higher doses of MDPV have caused intense, prolonged panic attacks in stimulant-intolerant users. The ODC also attributed “bouts of psychosis” to sleep deprivation, not the drug itself. Thus, sufficient drug education could show users how to take MDPV safely: Take low doses or start slowly, ingesting (if necessary) incrementally larger doses over a period of experiences.

But that doesn't help a whole lot if users don't know what chemicals they are ingesting, which is more likely to happen if the drugs are illegal and dealers dilute them with who knows what. Users will lose track not only of what chemicals they are ingesting, but also how much of the active ingredient they are taking. Shifting purity levels will make it difficult to determine a safe dosage.

One New York City head shop employee (who claimed that his most regular bath salts customers were "corporates") says reports about the dangers of bath salts caused him to take them off his shelves. He said the attention surrounding head shops and bath salts is “ridiculous.” “They are going after the wrong people,” he said, “What about places that sell cigarettes and alcohol?”

Cigarettes cause 443,000 deaths annually, and 25 percent of suicides are linked to alcohol, which causes another 100,000 deaths a year. While the dangers of cigarettes and alcohol may be old news, the implications of their legality are not. People want to experience the altered state of consciousness cigarettes, alcohol, bath salts, and illegal drugs provide. Legal drugs are the most dangerous, yet the government is in the midst of a war against the illegal ones.

If bath salts are indeed addictive, denying users access to the substance may drive them toward underground sources or similar illegal drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine, where unknown ingredients, inexperience and lack of knowledge may contribute to more adverse reactions. Perhaps the answer to the bath salts phenomenon is not fear or hysteria, but research into why people use drugs, and education in how to use them safely.

Kristen Gwynne is a freelance writer and editorial assistant at Alternet.

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