Synthetic cathinones, most commonly known as bath salts, are potent stimulants that can have severe side effects when used. Bath salts are considered designer drugs, which means they are synthetic drugs that are made with the purpose of mimicking another more popular illicit substance.
These human-made stimulants are sold on the black market, and sometimes dealers pass them off to buyers as MDMA, which is popularly known as ecstasy or Molly. Cathinones are chemically similar to amphetamines, and they can create chemical dependence and addiction. Bath salts have garnered media attention because of the effects they have on users.
The drug often causes manic behavior, paranoia, panic, and aggression. It also raises body temperature to the point where users might strip off their clothes to cool down. This disturbing behavior has led to several cases where violent crimes were mistakenly attributed to bath salt intoxication. This includes a 2012 incident where a nude Miami man attacked a homeless man by biting and eating his face before being shot by police. Some observers linked the man’s behavior to bath salts use, but no such drugs were found in his system.
However, synthetic designer drugs can be dangerous and unpredictable. Cathinones can elevate one’s heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, and they can cause a life-threatening overdose. High doses of powerful stimulants can result in heart failure. Frequent use and high doses can also lead to chemical dependency.
Bath salts are so strong and create an unpleasant high that it’s uncommon for people to take it regularly enough to develop a chemical dependence, but it can occur. Cathinones occur naturally in a plant called khat, which has been shown to cause dependency in scientific research. Synthetic cathinones can be more potent, causing dependence after using it in high doses a few times in a short period.
Bath salts withdrawal occurs as a result of cutting back or quitting the drug after developing chemical dependence. Dependence happens when your brain gets used to the presence of a drug in your system. When this happens, your body adapts by altering your brain chemistry around the foreign chemical to counteract any chemical imbalance it causes. Meanwhile, you may work against your body’s growing tolerance by increasing your dose. Once your body comes to rely on the drug, you will experience withdrawal symptoms that can be severe when you try to quit or cut back use.
Withdrawal symptoms can include:
Withdrawal symptoms can be more severe if you quit suddenly, or “cold turkey” on your own. Stimulant withdrawal symptoms are known to be life-threatening, so medical help is the safest way to come off the drug. Stimulants like cathinones can also cause severe depression and an inability to feel pleasure during withdrawal. In some cases, it can lead to thoughts of suicide. If you start to experience severe depression, reach out to a professional as soon as possible.
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Detox, or medical detoxification, is the highest level of care in addiction treatment. It involves 24-hour treatment from medical professionals who specialize in treating withdrawal. Detox is designed to help people who are likely to go through severe or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Detox can treat other medical conditions and complications that need to be addressed alongside withdrawal. Not everyone going through bath salts withdrawal will need to complete a medical detox program. However, medical care is the safest way to go through withdrawal symptoms.
When you enter an addiction treatment program, your intake team will help determine your level of care after a medical and clinical evaluation. If you’re not sure what level of care you need, they can help you.
If you don’t need detox, or if you complete it, you still may need additional levels of treatment. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detox is an essential part of treatment, but it’s typically not enough by itself to effectively treat addiction. You may still experience powerful drug cravings and psychological symptoms that you have to learn to manage so you can avoid relapse.
After detox, you may attend an inpatient program if you still have high-level psychological or medical needs. If your case is less severe, and you can live on your own, you may enter an outpatient program that is compatible with your schedule. No matter the placement, your treatment plan should be tailored to your specific needs. This means you may participate in various therapies that are personalized to you.
If you’ve been battling with a substance use disorder that’s related to cathinones or other designer drugs, you may need treatment to address addiction effectively. Substance use disorders are often progressive, which means they can grow in severity over time, especially when they go untreated. If substance abuse grows into addiction, it can start to take over your life, and your health, relationships, and finances can falter.
Addiction treatment can help you to avoid some of the worst consequences of addiction, and it can address the underlying issues that may be contributing to your substance use disorder. To take steps toward recovery and sobriety, start to learn more about addiction treatment today.
Al-Motarreb, A., Baker, K., & Broadley, K. J. (2002, August). Khat: pharmacological and medical aspects and its social use in Yemen. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12203257
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification.
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). MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/mdma-ecstasymolly
Tienabeso, S. (2012, May 29). Face-Eating Attack Possibly Prompted by 'Bath Salts,' Authorities Suspect. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/US/face-eating-attack-possibly-linked-bath-salts-miami/story?id=16451452