Bath Salts and ER Visits: The Dangerous Effects of Synthetic Drugs

Bath salt user going into emergency room.

We’ve all heard the stories and seen the news reports of the infallible, flesh-eating, “zombie drug” bath salts that came on the drug scene in 2010. This drug was extremely blown out of proportion by the media, making it look like the drug literally turned people into zombies. Classic media aggrandization at its finest.

Instead, let’s have an honest, sit-down talk about bath salts. Let’s discuss this as friends, and let’s have a heart-to-heart about the real risks and dangers involved with this substance. It is true that bath salts are dangerous and that they have serious, negative consequences, but let’s focus on separating truth from rumor with the real dangers of using bath salts.

The Truth About Bath Salts

So what are bath salts? Bath salts are scientifically referred to as “synthetic cathinones.” Bath salt drugs are not the tiny rock substances one would sprinkle into a bath. Instead, bath salts have an amphetamine base, are stimulants, and are always synthetically altered to make them more potent when consumed by humans. Bath salts, while they have yet to cause rampant death tolls like opioids and alcohol do, bath salts did send more than twenty-three thousand people to the emergency room in 2011 alone.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration began performing extensive research and study on bath salts when they first came on the “drug scene.” According to Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, the chief medical officer for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

“Although bath salts drugs are sometimes claimed to be 'legal highs' or are promoted with labels to mask their real purpose, they can be extremely dangerous when use…”
“Although bath salts drugs are sometimes claimed to be 'legal highs' or are promoted with labels to mask their real purpose, they can be extremely dangerous when used. Bath salts drugs can cause heart problems, high blood pressure, seizures, addiction, suicidal thoughts, psychosis and, in some cases, death, especially when combined with the use of other drugs.”

According to SAMHSA’s reports on bath salts, when drug users partake in bath salts, they almost always do so while also experimenting with another drug substance. Sixty-seven percent of emergency department visits that were linked to bath salts use also involved another drug. Fifteen percent of bath salts ER visits involved marijuana or synthetic marijuana.

A Fad Drug that Packs a Punch

Bath salt drug.

The last thing that any parent would want to hear is that their son or daughter was experimenting with bath salts. Bath salts are what is called a “fad drug” or a “designer drug” which means that interest in them takes off rapidly and is slow to die off. Bath salts go by many names, such as:

  • Ocean Snow,
  • Ivory Wave,
  • Red Dove,
  • Zoom,
  • Scarface,
  • Bloom,
  • Lunar Wave,
  • Vanilla Sky,
  • Cloud Nine,
  • White Lightning,
  • Purple Wave,
  • Blue Silk,
  • and Hurricane Charlie.

What makes bath salts very concerning in their health risk to users is that no one ever really knows what is in them. Bath salts come in small packages, are sold in convenience stores and head shops, labeled misleadingly as “plant food,” “herbal incense,” or, literally, as “bath salts.” Every time the Drug Enforcement Administration is able to outlaw a particular strain of bath salts, manufacturers simply change the ingredients slightly, change the packaging, and start selling the stuff all over again.

What we do know about bath salts, however, is that these substances will likely contain methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MPDV), mephedrone, and pyrovalerone. These are all amphetamine-based chemicals and are not safe for human consumption by any means. When people inhale, swallow, or inject bath salts with such amphetamine-base chemicals, the drug will spike the user's heart rate, produce a fever, and inhibit respiratory function. Hence the ER visits.

We need to work to reduce bath salt consumption in the U.S. These drugs are a crippling risk to anyone who would experiment with them.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.