Bath salts may refer to a wide variety of designer drugs with stimulant properties. The term is typically used to refer to a category of drugs called synthetic cathinones. Cathinones are a naturally occurring psychoactive substance that has been reproduced in labs and sold on the streets to mimic cocaine and MDMA, more popularly known as ecstasy.
As with other stimulants, cathinones like bath salts can be addictive and chemically dependent when they’re abused. However, dependence isn’t as common with bath salts as it is with more popular stimulants such as cocaine, meth, and amphetamines. Bath salts can often cause extreme effects that can be frightening or uncomfortable to users, like paranoia and hallucinations.
Still, bath salts can cause chemical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms are uncomfortable and can resemble the withdrawal of other stimulants. Along with symptoms, withdrawal can cause powerful drug cravings that can make it challenging to quit on your own.
Cathinones have been found to have an effect on several important chemicals in the brain. It stimulates the release of dopamine, a chemical that’s tied to reward, mood, and motivation. It also stops the nervous system from removing epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin from your system. These chemicals are also tied to energy levels, alertness, wakefulness, and a feeling of happiness and well-being. Withdrawal symptoms occur when you stop using the drug after developing a chemical dependency.
Your brain adapts your chemical levels to rely on bath salts to maintain balance. When the drug is removed, your brain chemistry is thrown out of balance. Because cathinones interact with chemicals that influence your emotional state, energy levels, and mood, those are the areas that will most likely be affected during withdrawal.
Stimulant withdrawal is often characterized by a depressed mood, fatigue, and general discomfort. In some cases, depression can be severe, leading to suicidal thoughts and actions. Other symptoms can include:
Bath salts are uncertain by nature, so the effects of intoxication and withdrawal that you might experience may be difficult to predict. Central nervous system stimulants aren’t known to be deadly during withdrawal, but they can be extremely unpleasant. Plus, since designer drugs aren’t standardized, the safest way to address a substance use problem and withdrawal is to seek medical help.
Medical detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment. Not everyone who receives treatment for substance use will need it. However, it can help people who experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms and people with other medical concerns. Medical detox involves 24-hour medical care from health care and clinical professionals.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, February). Synthetic Cathinones ("Bath Salts"). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cathinones-bath-salts
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, June 6). Prescription Stimulants. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants
Psychology Today. (n.d.). Dopamine. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/dopamine
Scaccia, A. (2017, May 18). Serotonin: What You Need to Know – Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin