What Are Bath Salts?

in Addiction
Published Jan 11, 2021
what are bath salts

The abuse of synthetic cathinones, also known as bath salts, has become a significant public health threat across the United States. Bath salts resemble cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), and amphetamines. The use of them can result in severe psychiatric symptoms and possibly death. Physical dependence or addiction to bath salts may cause withdrawal symptoms, which should be monitored in medical professionals’ presence.

The Components of Bath Salts

Bath salts are human-made stimulants that are chemically similar to cathinone, found in the khat plant. Khat is a shrub grown in East Africa and southern Arabia, where some people chew its leaves for their mild stimulant effects. However, research suggests that human-made cathinones are significantly more potent and dangerous than the natural product.

The active ingredients of bath salts include MDPV, mephedrone, and methylone. MDPV is structurally similar to psychoactive drugs that treat lethargy and fatigue. All three components have stimulant and hallucinogenic effects that are highly addictive.

They may also contain other ingredients that cause their own harmful effects. There is no way to know what is in a dose of bath salts without testing it in a lab setting.

Why Were Bath Salts Created?

Bath salts are in a group of drugs called new psychoactive substances (NPS). NPS are psychoactive mind-altering substances with no legitimate medical use and are created to copy the effects of controlled substances. They are introduced and reintroduced into the market in quick succession to dodge law enforcement.

They are marketed as cheap substitutes for other stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine. Bath salts can also be found in Molly, a form of ecstasy, instead of MDMA.

Effects on the Brain

There is little research on how bath salts affect the brain. However, one study found that MDPV affects the brain similarly to cocaine but is ten times more powerful. Bath salts change the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate. Specifically, they raise the levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which controls reward and movement. Circuits in the brain’s reward system use dopamine to teach the brain to repeat actions it finds enjoyable. They possess the reward system, releasing large amounts of dopamine, resulting in an intense motivation to seek the drug.

Side Effects

The use of bath salts produces both short-term and long-term effects that are severe can cause death. Short-term side effects include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Chest pains
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of appetite
  • Increased alertness and awareness
  • Anxiety
  • Nosebleeds


Long-term effects include:

  • Blood circulation problems
  • Kidney failure
  • Seizures
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle damage
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Aggression
  • Severe paranoia
  • Panic attacks
  • A sharp increase in body temperature


The effects of using bath salts can last from four to eight hours. However, some individuals have reported that the effects lasted a full two days. Hallucinations and psychotic behavior can last a lifetime, even when the use of the drug has stopped.

The severe side effects of bath salt use have caused numerous individuals to need emergency care at hospitals. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), of patients who arrive at emergency departments, about 40% present with psychotic symptoms and the number of calls to US poison control centers related to bath salts increased from 304 in 2010 to 6,138 in 2011. This number went down for a total of 2,251 calls in 2012.

They can cause violent and unpredictable behavior that has led to harm and violence to oneself and others. In a case presented by the US Department of Justice, a 21-year old man committed suicide after snorting bath salts. His family described him as paranoid before the event and the toxicology report found the presence of MDPV in his system.

Mixing bath salts with other substances can cause more severe effects. An individual who uses two substances at once will feel heightened effects of both drugs. Combining substances also increases the risk of fatal overdose.

Are They Addictive?

Bath salts are highly addictive. They have the ability to create tolerance, meaning an individual needs more or a higher dose of the drug to achieve the desired effects. Tolerance is a characteristic of both physical dependence and substance use disorder (SUD). However, SUD prevents individuals from being able to control or stop their use despite harmful consequences. Both physical dependence and SUD present withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Problems sleeping
  • Paranoia


Due to this drug often being cut with other substances, the true magnitude of their addictive potential may be even higher.

Synthetic cathinones, or bath salts, are highly addictive drugs, known to be ten times more potent than cocaine. They are man-made to give the same effects as stimulants and hallucinogens at a cheaper price. They cause numerous severe and life-threatening side effects. This drug may also cause hallucinations and psychotic behavior that can last even after the drug is no longer used. They also cause violent and unpredictable behavior that can result in harm and even death of oneself and others. Using them can lead to physical dependence or substance use disorder (SUD), which present withdrawal symptoms when the substance is stopped. Withdrawal can be uncomfortable, frightening, and even life-threatening. At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we use proprietary, evidence-based medical protocols that prioritize our patients’ comfort and safety to guide them through the detox process. Our personalized treatment is delivered in a safe and peaceful environment. If you or a loved one struggles with physical dependence or SUD related to bath salts, call Gallus Medical Detox Centers at (866) 296-5242 for help today.