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Bath Salts

Stressed young man.

What They Are

Bath salts are synthetic drugs that are typically sold in a powdered format, packaged in plastic or foil packets that hold between 200 and 500 milligrams, according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. There are a number of different companies that manufacture these drugs, and often, these manufacturers design the packages to entice teens to buy.

Bright colors, pretty emoticons, interesting phrases, and skillful illustrations can all make bath salts look appealing and interesting, as though they’re made just for the teen market. Some manufacturers put these drugs into convenience stores and head shops where teens might pass by, while others sell their drugs online, with the promise that they can be shipped anywhere.

Manufacturers often go through a complicated process in order to develop their drugs, and they might be quite sensitive about outlining what’s in each batch of drugs they make. As an analysis in The Week points out, that secrecy has a lot to do with the drug laws in the United States.

A number of notorious drugs like cocaine and marijuana are illegal for manufacturers to create and sell, but if they tweak just one little element of those drugs, they could escape the laws altogether. As those laws are written now, there’s enough of a gray area to allow manufacturers to slip through. That means they could be both making and selling bath salts for a long time to come. They might hide their recipes from competitors as well as users, so they can keep making drugs while they claim that they have no idea that their products really are drugs.

Most bath salts are placed into packages with disclaimers that say “Not for human consumption,” or “For decoration only.” These little words of warning are meant to help manufacturers claim that they don’t intend for their purchasers to ingest the drugs at all, but teens can skip right over those words with ease. When they do, they could be exposed to very serious and powerful substances.

Inside the Chemistry of Bath Salts

Container of bath salts.While bath salts might look like harmless powders, each granule contains a great deal of power. Research in Pharmacy and Therapeutics suggests that bath salts contain:

  • MDPV
  • Mephedrone
  • Methylone
  • Cutting agents, like lidocaine

The active ingredients in bath salts work on the same parts of the brain that methamphetamine does. That means teens who take bath salts tend to experience a boost of energy and a sensation of power, along with distortions in sensory perception. A teen on bath salts is profoundly altered during the experience, and that teen might also feel a boost of euphoria and joy that’s intensely rewarding.

Bath salts can deliver a number of nasty side effects, too, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Some users experience a deep sense of paranoia coupled with rising psychosis. These are the bath salt users that made headlines a few years ago, when they started attacking others or themselves due to the impact of this drug. They couldn’t behave in an appropriate manner, due to the changes the drug delivered.

Unfortunately, however, it’s hard to really know and predict what bath salts can do. As manufacturers continue to twist and tweak formulas in order to evade laws, it becomes harder and harder for the medical community to know how the drugs work and what sorts of dangers people might face when they take these drugs. They become a great unknown, and that can make recovery really difficult.

Understanding a Bath Salt User

Between January 1 and June 30 of 2015, more than 250 cases of bath salt exposure were brought to the attention of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. That means more than 250 people took the drug on purpose, or they were somehow introduced to the drug even though they never intended to take it.

Teenagers represent a perfect market for bath salts, as teens tend to be risk-takers. Adolescence is a time of invincibility and power, in which teens feel certain that they can escape any sort of negative outcome that others might face. They feel safe, even though they’re not.

Research from Pediatric Emergency Care suggests that 66.7% of teens taking bath salts inhaled the drug, and a little more than half of these teens took the drug while in their own home or in the home of someone else. That means teens taking bath salts are snorting the powder in bedrooms and bathrooms, not in nightclubs. That provides parents with an excellent opportunity to intervene.

Dealing Directly With Bath Salts

Since bath salts come in colorful wrappers, they tend to leave a trail of detritus that parents can follow. By looking through the trash, through a child’s laundry, or in hidden desk drawers, parents might find very real evidence of the drugs a teen might be using.

Even if parents aren’t sure that the wrappers they find come from bath salts, they can use their garbage hunts as conversation starters. They might ask teens to explain what the detritus is, where it came from, and what it’s used for. Parents might ask these same questions of the child’s doctor, just to make sure the answers match.

Once parents have confirmation of drug use, they can work to counter the misinformation the teen may have seen in online sources. Parents might talk about:
  • The chemical structure of the drugs
  • The illegal nature of the drugs
  • How these drugs work on the mind
  • Why an adolescent mind is changing and therefore vulnerable to addiction

Teenager in thoughtFor some teens, this is a conversation that stops experimentation cold. Once these teens understand just what they’re doing to their bodies with each hit of drugs they take, they might be a lot less likely to keep using drugs in the future.

But some teens might admit to further drug use during this conversation, and they might also claim that they don’t know how to stop. A teen like this is opening the door to treatment, and that’s an opportunity parents just won’t want to pass up.

Teens who can’t stop using without help may find the strength and skills they need in a comprehensive treatment program that offers:

  • Psychosocial therapies
  • Relapse prevention training
  • Medication management
  • Support group work
  • Family therapy
  • Ongoing education
  • Academic enhancement
  • Alternative therapies

These are enhanced, strong programs that can touch an addiction from all sides, and that could help a teen to get better in no time. It’s easy enough for parents to get the process started.

In a bath salts treatment program, clinical teams might run blood and urine tests to determine what sorts of active ingredients are in the drugs the teen has taken. Then, the team can work with the family to pull together a proper course of care. For some, that means inpatient care. For others, it means outpatient care. The whole family has a say, and the teen can express preferences, too.

Once the program is complete, the teen might need to continue with some kind of therapy in the community. That might be a weekly session with a psychotherapist, or it might be ongoing support group work. Whatever the teen needs to stay sober should be provided.

Conquering Bath Salts

Bath salts are rare drugs. As a study in Drug and Alcohol Review discovered, only about 1% of teens take these drugs. That’s a very small number.

But parents who discover a bath salts problem should address the issue. Parents who open up a discussion about bath salts may uncover evidence of very different kinds of drug abuse that should also be treated. So it’s something parents should both know about and act on, as quickly as possible.

Next Generation Village can help. Intake teams can help families with known addiction issues to address their concerns quickly, while families with just suspected drug use can connect with interventionists who can help the family to talk openly. Calls are free and confidential, and operators are standing by. Interested parties are encouraged to reach out.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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