What is Bath Salts (Synthetic Cathinones)_ Addiction, Abuse & Treatment

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

What is Bath Salts (Synthetic Cathinones)? Addiction, Abuse & Treatment

Table of Contents

Bath salts are a group of designer drugs that have become increasingly popular due to their psychoactive properties. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has identified bath salts as a growing problem that requires attention on the street and in medical settings. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of bath salts addiction so that proper treatment can be given in time.

What is Bath Salt (Synthetic Cathinone)?

Bath salts, also known as synthetic cathinones, are psychoactive substances derived from the khat plant that mimic the effects of stimulants. These drugs can cause hallucinations, psychosis, agitation, and other dangerous behaviors.

The chemical structure of synthetic cathinones is similar to amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) such as methamphetamine. Like other ATS, bath salts can increase dopamine levels in the brain and strongly stimulate users.

Unfortunately, bath salts have been misrepresented in the media and are often marketed as “legal highs” or “herbal supplements.” This deceptive marketing strategy can lead to unsuspecting users consuming dangerous drugs without knowing the risks involved. They’re also seen as plant food by young adults keen on drug use.

Where Do Bath Salts Come From?

Bath salts are synthetic cathinones, a drug developed in the early 1990s to copy the effects of natural stimulants like the khat plant. The khat plant is native to East Africa and Yemen. It has traditionally been used as an appetite suppressant and stimulant.

The chemical compounds in bath salts have similar structures to those in the khat plant and act on similar brain receptors. This similarity gave rise to their nickname, “synthetic cathinones,” derived from the name of the active ingredient in khat, cathinone.

Although bath salts are now illegal in most countries, they were initially sold as a legal substance for recreational use. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified them as Schedule I controlled substances, meaning they are highly addictive and have no medical value.

How Do People Use Bath Salts?

Bath salts are commonly consumed orally, but the practice can be dangerous due to their high levels of potency and potentially harmful ingredients. Inhalation is also common, with users snorting or smoking the drug to experience its effects; however, this method of consumption carries serious health risks as it could damage the lungs and respiratory system over time. Finally, the injection has become increasingly popular lately, although it’s the riskiest form of intake as it can cause skin infections, abscesses, and blood-borne diseases.

Due to the deceptive packaging and marketing of bath salts, users often mistakenly believe they are safe for recreational use when they can be incredibly harmful. You can typically expect to find them as a white or brown crystalline powder, usually sold in small plastic bags. According to studies, it’s prevalent among high school users in the United States.

How Do People Use Bath Salts

Effects of Bath Salts

Bath salts are known to produce strong feelings of euphoria. They can cause users to experience a temporary feeling of heightened senses. Some of the immediate physical effects of using bath salts include:

  • increased heart rate

  • high blood pressure

  • elevated body temperature

  • nausea and vomiting

  • tremors and seizures.

The mental and psychological effects of using bath salts include:

  • euphoria (feeling of intense happiness)

  • hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)

  • paranoia (irrational fear or anxiety)

  • agitation and anger.

Long-term use of bath salts can lead to addiction, depression, memory loss, kidney failure, and other serious health issues due to its toxicology. It’s important to note that the effects of bath salts can vary between individuals and may be enhanced when using multiple drugs at once. If you are concerned about your or someone else’s use of bath salts, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Medical professionals can provide the necessary information and resources for a successful recovery.

Effects of Bath Salts

Can You Become Addicted To Bath Salts?

When it comes to whether one can become addicted to bath salts, there’s a lot to remember. Here’s the breakdown in detail:

Understanding the Addiction Potential of Synthetic Cathinones

Bath salts are synthetic cathinone, a stimulant drug class containing chemical compounds in amphetamines and cocaine. These compounds act on the same brain pathways as other, more established addictive substances. Bath salts can have similar effects when abused to those seen with methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA.

Differentiating Between Physical Dependency and Psychological Addiction

Physical dependency on bath salts occurs when users become accustomed to regular doses to maintain a certain level of functioning or achieve desired effects. This type of dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that occur when use is stopped abruptly. On the other hand, psychological addiction is often associated with compulsive drug use and an inability to stop using even when faced with negative consequences.

Who is Most At-Risk of Abusing Bath Salts?

Those at risk for abusing bath salts usually have a history of substance abuse, including alcohol or drugs. People with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder may also be more likely to abuse bath salts. Additionally, those with difficulties coping with stress and individuals in certain social or cultural settings may be more likely to abuse the drug.

What Are the Signs of Bath Salt Abuse?

Knowing the signs of bath salt abuse can help recognize when someone may need to step in and help. Here’s what they may look like:

  • Behavioral: Changes in behavior, such as aggression or irritability; a lack of motivation; and an increased appetite for bath salts.

  • Physical: Vomiting; tremors; increases in heart rate and blood pressure; seizures; coma.

  • Psychological: Depression; anxiety; paranoia; delusions of grandeur.

Bath salts are highly addictive and can quickly lead to physical, psychological, and behavioral dependency. It can go from casual use to proper addiction in a very short period. Understanding the signs and symptoms associated with bath salt abuse is important to address it quickly and effectively.

What Are the Signs of Bath Salt Abuse

Cravings and Withdrawal

Bath salts are highly addictive substances, and users can quickly become dependent on them. Regular bath salts lead to cravings and withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped or reduced. Cravings for bath salts may include intense desires, feelings of agitation, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and physical restlessness.

Bath salts withdrawal symptoms may include headaches, fatigue, nausea, sweating, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. In extreme cases, withdrawal from bath salts may cause seizures or other serious physical symptoms.

Treatment for Bath Salts Abuse and Addiction

Bath salt abuse and addiction can be treated through medical, psychological, social, and spiritual interventions. Here’s a breakdown:

  1. Medical Treatment: This often includes a period of detoxification, which can be accomplished in a residential setting or at an outpatient medical facility. Medications may be prescribed during this process to mitigate physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

  2. Psychological Treatment: Inpatient and outpatient psychotherapy is essential for successfully treating bath salt addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is widely used to help individuals better identify and manage triggers for bath salts and develop new coping strategies for dealing with stress. Motivational enhancement therapy can also help treat those who abuse bath salts.

  3. Social Support: Group support in the form of 12-step meetings or other peer group programs to create support systems can be especially beneficial – helping provide emotional support and offering practical advice on staying clean and sober and freeing yourself from drug abuse.

  4. Spiritual Intervention: Finally, spiritual intervention may be used with other forms of treatment to provide a sense of meaning and purpose for those struggling with substance abuse. This can be individual counseling, church services, or group meetings led by religious leaders or counselors focusing on spiritual topics.

Treatment for Bath Salts Abuse and Addiction

Getting the Help You Need

Finding a good treatment center is essential for recovery. At NuView Treatment Center, our team of dedicated professionals is here to help individuals in recovery find the resources and support they need to return to living a life free of drug dependence. Contact us at (323) 307 – 7997 or email us at info@nuviewtreatment.com to learn more about how we can help you.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Bath Salts (Synthetic Cathinones) Addiction, Abuse and Treatment

Due to their resemblance in crystal form and the fact that they are often packaged similarly, synthetic cathinones have been sold as “bath salts” since their emergence on the illegal market. This misleading has confused many people who mistakenly think this substance is similar to Epsom salts or other bathing products.

Bath salts are more potent than other synthetic drugs, including amphetamines and MDMA. They can cause various effects, from mild stimulation to hallucinogenic effects that last up to four hours, but the risks associated with bath salt use increase as the dose increases.

Synthetic cathinones can be used for legitimate medical purposes. For example, they have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat narcolepsy and ADHD in children and adults. However, physicians must closely monitor their use as these drugs can cause serious side effects when abused or misused.

Bath salts use is difficult to measure because they are not regulated or monitored. However, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), synthetic cathinones are becoming increasingly popular in some parts of Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and Latin America.

Yes, synthetic cathinones can be detected in urine tests and other drug screening methods. However, the presence of these drugs in a person's system does not necessarily indicate abuse or addiction. It's important to note that standard drug tests may not detect certain types of bath salts, depending on their chemical composition.

In most countries, the possession and distribution of bath salts is illegal. Penalties vary depending on the jurisdiction but can include fines, jail time, or both. It's important to consult with a lawyer to determine what specific laws apply in your area.

In rare cases, bath salts can lead to fatal overdoses. As with any illicit or prescription drug, it's important to use caution and start with a small dose to reduce the risk of overdose or other serious side effects. If you or someone you know is using bath salts, seek medical attention immediately if any signs of an overdose are present.

The media often paints a picture of bath salts being an extremely dangerous and addictive drug with potentially severe consequences. While it's true that these drugs can be harmful if abused, it's important to remember that not all users will experience the same effects. Most people will not experience serious side effects or addiction with responsible use.

  1. Prosser, J. M., & Nelson, L. S. (2012). The toxicology of bath salts: a review of synthetic cathinones. Journal of medical toxicology : official journal of the American College of Medical Toxicology, 8(1), 33–42. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13181-011-0193-z

  2. Palamar J. J. (2015). “Bath salt” use among a nationally representative sample of high school seniors in the United States. The American journal on addictions, 24(6), 488–491. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajad.12254

  3. Gershman, J. A., & Fass, A. D. (2012). Synthetic cathinones (‘bath salts’): legal and health care challenges. P & T : a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management, 37(10), 571–595.

  4. German, C. L., Fleckenstein, A. E., & Hanson, G. R. (2014). Bath salts and synthetic cathinones: an emerging designer drug phenomenon. Life sciences, 97(1), 2–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lfs.2013.07.023

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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