The Truth Behind the Bath Salts "Epidemic"
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Drug scares, like the seasons, are cyclical. Here in the US, we had media firestorms over crack in the 80’s, meth in the 90’s, and prescription painkillers in the 00’s. Right on schedule, the latest demon drug that is supposedly tearing our society apart has entered stage left: bath salts.
Bath salts really just means a drug that is a combination of two stimulants— MDPV andmephedrone. Sold online and via headshops as a cheap, legal alternative to cocaine and ecstasy, mephedrone was first synthesized in 1929 while MDPV came along in 1969. Both were rediscovered in 2003 and they were perfect drugs for the Internet age—an ideal alternative to pricy illegal drugs that could be obtained legally with nothing more than a credit card and the click of a mouse.
The exact pharmacology of bath salts can vary, as compounds are constantly tweaked by chemists to stay one step ahead of the law. “Most of these substances seem to be cathinone derivatives, and as such are central nervous system stimulants that act through interruptions of dopamine, norepinephrine and—to a more limited extent—serotonin function,” explains Dr. Adi Jaffe, an addiction specialist at UCLA. While noting that actual research on these substances is in its early stages and reports are limited, Jaffe says that “at low to moderate doses the most common effects for MDPV can be thought of as meth-like: stimulation, euphoria and alertness. Mephedrone seems to act more like MDMA than meth.”
While the chemistry may change, one thing that has remained consistent is the ballooning popularity of this sector of the drug market.
After the explosion in use, the next phase of the drug scare comes in the form of demonization, and the authorities have certainly wasted no time in making some pretty wild allegations about the supposed effects of bath salts; recently we’ve heard that these drugs can causes cannibalism, a la the infamous Miami face-eater, pedophilia and even cross-dressinggoat abuse.
The third part of any good drug scare happens when the press, despite a total lack of causal evidence, parrots these outlandish accusations. In the Miami cannibal case, the link between bath salts originated from a statement made by someone with no direct involvement with the case—the president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, Armando Aguilar—despite the fact that an autopsy and toxicology had yet to be performed on attacker Rudy Eugene.
In the case of Shane Shuyler, the Miami man accused of exposing himself to children while “allegedly” under the influence of bath salts, the evidence was no less hazy. The police said they found something that “appeared” to be bath salts in his wallet (i.e. an unidentified white powder). And then there was this strange quote from a detective giving evidence against Shuyler: "Upon talking to him, he made some statements to me which led me to believe that he was cooling off in a fountain by the tot-lot, because he was hot, which was consistent with ingesting bath salts." The logic being that since bath salts cause users body temperatures to rise, then cooling off by a water fountain is evidence of bath salts use. Never mind the fact that the incident took place in June, in Miami, where the average temperature is 88.1 degrees.
After the hype comes the crackdown, which means that high-profile cases like these have created a push from both the media and law enforcement for a federal ban on the sale of bath salts.