Talk to your teens about the dangers of bath salts

DEAR DOCTOR K:

I heard a news story about people using bath salts to get high. Can you explain how this is possible? Should my husband and I talk to our two teenagers about this?

DEAR READER:

I can see why you’d be confused. I was, too, the first time I heard about “bath salts” being used as a recreational drug. But the bath salts you’ve heard about have nothing to do with soaking in a tub.

These so-called bath salts are sold at “head shops” where drug paraphernalia is sold. They are also sold at some convenience stores and gas stations and on the Internet. The products go by names such as White Rush, Cloud Nine, Ivory Wave, Ocean Snow, White Lightning, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Blue Silk and Bloom.

These products are actually designer drugs that can be used to get high. They are stimulant drugs, like methamphetamine. They can be taken by mouth. Unfortunately, most people snort or inject them, which makes bath salts more dangerous than when taken by mouth. But however they are taken, they are dangerous—for the person taking them, and for people around them.

Bath salts often cause the user to become extremely excitable, aggressive and destructive. A colleague told me about two young men who came into the emergency room, out of their minds because of bath salts. They were yelling, pushing each other, grabbing hospital staff. They were seeing things, like people or animals that weren’t there. They were terrified that aliens were after them. It took three strong men to hold each guy down.

Bath salts don’t just make people crazy. They also cause jerking, uncontrollable muscle movements, severe high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat. By putting the heart rate and blood pressure into overdrive, they can even cause sudden death.

Because these products have been sold as bath salts and labeled “not for human consumption,” they flew under the radar for a while. The deliberately confusing description made them hard to label as controlled or illegal substances. For the time being, people can still buy these bath salts. That won’t last long, though.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) plans to change this very soon. On Sept. 7, the DEA announced plans to implement a temporary, year-long ban on the active chemicals in bath salts and all products containing them. During this ban, the agency will continue to study whether the drugs should be banned in the long term.

This ban will make it illegal to make, possess or sell these products. It should go into effect sometime this month.

Even though it will be illegal to sell bath salts, a quick Internet search shows it’s still easy to buy them right now. So I’d advise taking some time to talk with your kids about the dangers of bath salts and other illegal drugs.

I know that there is always a danger in talking about risky behavior to teenagers. For some, it makes the behavior more, not less, attractive. But even teenagers don’t want to go crazy or to die. So remind them of the risks—and that there are safer ways to have fun.