Bath salts belong to a group of drugs that health officials call “new psychoactive substances.” These are psychoactive drugs that mimic the effects of existing illegal substances and have only made their presence in the drug market within the past decade. Regulating bath salts has proven extremely difficult, as the drug’s manufacturers continually change the “recipe” to evade newly instated drug laws.
Bath salts first appeared in Europe in 2007, and it didn’t take long before they reached the United States. The number of calls to United States poison control centers that were related to bath salts went from zero in 2009 to 302 in 2010. In 2011, there were 2,237 bath salt-related calls reported.
In 2011, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) enacted an emergency ban on the three chemicals most commonly used to make these dangerous substances. Drug manufacturers, though, have remained one step ahead of law enforcement, constantly finding new ways to get around the law.
Bath salts misuse appears to have declined recently, as many sellers relabeled the bath salts in their original form as “molly” or “flakka”, so many people don’t even know they’re taking bath salts. Bath salts usually take the form of a white or brown crystal-like powder and are sold with packaging that make their purchase appear legal — for example, “jewelry cleaner” labeled “not for human consumption”. Other labels that dealers may use for these substances are “plant food” and “phone screen cleaner.” Once acquired, the powder is snorted, injected, smoked, or swallowed. Nasal inhalation and injection use preset the highest risk of overdose and death.