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Bath Salts: The Not-So-Bad Wolf (Chat Transcript)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Bath salts have been given ill repute as of late, and SciAm hosted a live chat with me to clear things up. Previously, before the flesh-eating account speculation, I had posted on bath salts and their notoriety:

A growing fascination of the media, ‘bath salts’ is a street name for a class of recreational drugs containing the active compound Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (PDF link), or MDPV. This compound was classified as a schedule 1 drug in October by the DEA, meaning that it has high abuse potential, no current medical use and no established safety protocol. Though scant pharmacology research has been done on MDPV, ‘bath salts’ are a known central nervous system stimulant and often induce hallucinogenic effects in users. The medical effects and consequences from chest pains to stroke are immense, and hospitals often struggle to sedate those facing psychosis from these chemical stimulants swallowed, snorted or injected.

After the allegations of violence combined with the drugs, SciAm hosted the chat. Take a look at the transcript below, and weigh in with questions or comments.

What are ‘bath salts’ and are they bringing on a zombie apocalypse? Of course not, but join Scientific American blogger Cassie Rodenberg to discuss the chemistry of this new class of recreational drugs and why it has been associated recently with unusual forms of violence.

CHAT TRANSCRIPT

Robin Lloyd
Welcome everyone to our 30-minute live chat today with Scientific American blogger Cassie Rodenberg.

I’m Robin Lloyd, news editor at Scientific American and I’ll host this 30 min. chat today.

We will be discussing ‘bath salts’ and the ‘zombie’ attacks, and whether there is any good science on this subject. Obviously, zombies don’t exist, but let’s get into the chemistry and truth behind these latest incidents of apparently drug-induced violence. Our guest today is Cassie Rodenberg. Cassie is an Interactive TV Producer in New York City, a writer & former chemist. Follow her on Twitter @cassierodenberg. Here is her blog: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/white-noise/.

So let’s get started. Cassie, could you start by explaining to everyone what bath salts are?

Cassie Rodenberg
Hi everyone!

Matt Wilson
Hi Cassie!

davidkroll
Glad to be here. I’ve done a little writing on compounds in bath salts and synthetic marijuana.

Cassie Rodenberg
Bath salts are the street name for a class of recreational drugs, that are synthetic and in the amphetamine and cathinone classes.

Robin Lloyd
So it’s not just one drug, but there are a variety of substances?

Cassie Rodenberg
They’re often marketed as things like ‘Ivory Wave’ and were initially called bath salts to get around FDA regulations. They stimulate the central nervous system and often cause feelings of euphoria and alertness.

BoraZ
I am interested in branding – where does the term come from, who uses it and why, and should we use ‘bath salts’ when writing about it? Does it ‘soften’ the impact?

Cassie Rodenberg
It’s branded ‘bath salts’ because marketers can claim it’s ‘not for human consumption’ and ‘for novelty use only’.

davidkroll
Re Cassie’s point, products with the chemical(s) in bath salts were also advertised as plant fertilizer for a time. Also marketed as incense, cleaning products, etc.

mdichristina
Cassie, David: Why are we all suddenly hearing about ‘bath salts’? What happened?

Cassie Rodenberg
It got big as a European club drug, because it’s a relatively cheap stimulant alternative, and one that escaped under police radar. Bath salts are a nickname for a synthetic drug that has recently acquired a lot of media attention.

Kelly Brennan
In Schuylkill County PA, they were also sold as ‘jewelry cleaner’ for a little while.

BoraZ
So it’s a ‘wink-wink’ way for dealers and users to be in the know, bypassing other’s watchful eyes!

anatoliafergus
I heard that a few companies, like Costco, recently pulled their Epson salts thinking they are the same thing.

Rushil Fernandes
Okay, I have a couple of questions. When you say ‘bath Salts’ are you talking about actual bath salts, or is it a euphemism for a new drug? Second, let’s have some references please. How does it do what it does and how nasty (or not) is it?

TorovenEmasu
So ‘Bath Salts’ exist as a clever marketing ploy to bring a controlled substance to the marketplace?

Cassie Rodenberg
@Toroven — Yes, this was a sneaky marketing tactic.

davidkroll
No, Rushil – it’s not a euphemism. Yes, Toroven, exactly.

davidkroll
Bora, the term I often see is ‘legal highs’ although many of the chemicals are no longer legal.

BoraZ
So, how does one tell the kids about these drugs without making them sound harmless and appealing?

Cassie Rodenberg
That’s the trick- nicknaming drugs not only makes them sound harmless, but also opens the window for kids to dive under their mom’s medicine cabinet to try her ACTUAL bath salts, not the drug.

Rushil Fernandes
Okay, seems to me that this is an American phenomenon. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to India. Bye folks!

Robin Lloyd
Shaun Kallis on FB: Chances are high that Bath Salts or MDPV, a dopamine re-uptake inhibitor, was not the drug responsible for face attack.

Cassie Rodenberg
Right now, it’s hard to determine the drugs involved in the ‘face attack’ without a toxicology screening.

davidkroll
The officer in the Miami case shouldn’t have even speculated on bath salts. Misleading.

Cassie Rodenberg
We can say what may or may not be likely, but above all, it’s important to note that drugs do not necessarily cause violence. Often pre-existing mental illnesses are at play. Drugs can augment pre-existing mental illness, but violent behavior usually does not start with a drug. People with schizophrenia, for example, have a much higher likelihood of violence without the addition of drugs

Cassie Rodenberg
@anatolia, I think the street name has caused a general fear for a commonplace household item, which is a shame

ArthurShuey
One can smoke, snort, eat or inject bath salts, right? And the effect level is different with different means of use, so injection is more potent than smoking?

Cassie Rodenberg
@Arthur, with most drugs, injection is more potent and a faster delivery system.

davidkroll
Always best to wait for the toxicology report. But this horrifying case may have the effect that Bora suggests may create an aversion to bath salts use among young people.

Cassie Rodenberg
@david — I agree. we know too little at this point. It’s a good platform to discuss hyping and blaming of drugs

Robin Kellner
Are bath salts ‘the drug’ addictive?

Cassie Rodenberg
@Robin, there’s little science that’s been done, however, since the drug is a cathinone, I would say the potential for abuse is there. Stimulants cause subjectively different reactions on users.

davidkroll
Cassie, in all of your recent interviews with substance abusers, have you talked much with folks using bath salts?

Cassie Rodenberg
@david, no, I have not. I think the media has hyped the notion of rampant bath salt use

TorovenEmasu
Another case of uninformed speculation causing a stir of paranoia… Is ‘bath salts’ a street name, or a merchandising name?

Cassie Rodenberg
@Toroven, ‘bath salts’ is a street name, along with things like ‘White Lightning,’ ‘Hurricane Charlie’ and ‘Vanilla Sky’.

Robin Lloyd
So there really isn’t an increase in the public’s use of ‘bath salts’?

Cassie Rodenberg
Bath salts seem to be the hip-to-talk-about drug of the moment, but they don’t deserve to be criminalized more than any other drug.

TorovenEmasu
I always feel regulating something is better than illegalizing. Straight up illegalization only creates criminals.

Robin Lloyd
Cassie what do you think of Bora’s q: So, how does one tell the kids about these drugs without making them sound harmless and appealing?

Cassie Rodenberg
They were classified as a Schedule 1 illegal substance back in October, so it’s likely that another chemical form will enter the market. This is what happens with most synthetic drugs. they have short life spans because they’re made illegal. I think educators should call these what they are–stimulants, and discuss them along with cocaine and methamphetamine. Perpetuating names like ‘Hurricane Charlie’ only makes them sound more cool and alluring.

Kelly Brennan
So what about the makeup of the drugs makes people go crazy? I’ve experienced people who were using and literally were acting psychotic.

David Kroll
Chemically, Cassie, isn’t a bigger concern the possibility of toxic intermediates in the products from shoddy syntheses?

Cassie Rodenberg
@david, absolutely. There are larger toxic dangers in the creation of these substances that could be promoted.

Cassie Rodenberg
I think discussing how they’re marketed is a good thing, but to always call them what they chemically are is important.

Robin Lloyd
OK folks, thanks for participating. I have to shut this chat down in the next minute. Feel free to follow-up with Cassie on Twitter. @cassierodenberg

Robin Lloyd
Thanks, Cassie!

Cassie Rodenberg
Thanks all!

Cassie Rodenberg About the Author: I write on culture, poverty, addiction, and mental illness: I explore things we like to ignore. I also teach public school in New York City's South Bronx. Follow on Twitter @cassierodenberg.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. kebil 10:41 pm 09/22/2012

    Cassie – you state that injection is faster and more potent than other forms of taking drugs. While it is the most potent way to take drugs (being 100% bioavailable by definition, as my pharmacokinetics class taught me), as the entirety of the dose is placed in circulation, I believe that smoking can actually be faster than injection for some drugs.

    Example; Vaporization of cocaine (in the form of freebase/crack) provides an onset of action so rapid that peak effect is reached during, or very shortly after, the beginning of smoking. Going directly from the lungs, to the blood, and then to the brain (and the rest of the body). In contrast, with injection, the dose must first return to the heart, then go through the lungs, before being delivered to the brain (and rest of the body).

    I realize this difference can be infinitesimal, but my point is that vaporization/smoking of drugs is not much different for some drugs (especially lower molecular weight drugs) than IV use, and this should be considered when we discuss routes of administration.

    Link to this

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