A May 2012 incident on a Miami highway introduced the world to the profound horrors of the synthetic stimulant known as “bath salts” — or at least it appeared that way.

The short version is this: A 31-year-old man left his disabled car on the road and walked the MacArthur Causeway, stripping off his clothes along the way. When he encountered a 65-year-old homeless man, he began beating him and chewing off his face. The attack reportedly lasted for 18 minutes before help arrived. A Miami police offer pleaded with the attacker, who was now nude, to stop.

He ignored those warnings and continued the assault. The officer eventually shot the attacker dead. By then, about 75 percent of the homeless man’s face was chewed off, making him unrecognizable.

Initial media reports stated that bath salts were what motivated the man to commit the heinous act, but that proved to be untrue as toxicology reports found no trace of the substance in the attacker’s body. Nevertheless, the incident set off a widespread panic about the enigmatic substance.

Though the incident led people to exaggerate the drug’s effects greatly, this human-made stimulant still produces a multitude of negative effects and withdrawal symptoms, including psychosis, tremors, and hallucinations.

What are Bath Salts?

Bath salts are really synthetic cathinones, human-made stimulants chemically related to the khat plant, which is found in southern Arabia and East Africa.

Not much is known about bath salts, except that they are psychostimulants that produce effects that are similar to cocaine and amphetamines. When swallowed, snorted, smoked, or injected, they spike dopamine levels in the brain. They are also incorporated into the recreational drug 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) or “Molly.”

Like Molly, bath salts have no medical use whatsoever and are classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the  U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the most restrictive classification.

It means that bath salts have a high potential for abuse.

Typically, the substance comes as a white or brown crystal-like powder and is sold online or in drug paraphernalia shops in packages labeled “not for human consumption,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). They can also be labeled “bath salts,” “jewelry cleaner,” “phone screen cleaner,” and “plant food.”

Synthetic cathinones are part of a class of drugs known as new psychoactive substances (NPS) and go by an array of brand names like Vanilla Sky, White Lightning, Bliss, and Cloud Nine.

Names like “Bliss” and “Cloud Nine” may speak to the purported beneficial effects of bath salts, which include elevated mood, sociability, and heightened sex drive. But there are tremendous downsides to the drug, including withdrawal symptoms. Find out exactly what those symptoms are.

Bath Salts Withdrawal Symptoms

Because of their highly addictive nature, bath salts require medical monitoring when someone is in withdrawal. That protocol requires tapering off the drugs to help a client detox safely and comfortably.

Nevertheless, withdrawal symptoms will present differently from person to person and depend on the severity and duration of use. These symptoms can also be unpredictable and manifest as physical and psychological effects.

The withdrawal symptoms from bath salts include:

  • Severe cravings for more of the drug
  • Violent or erratic behavior
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nasal congestion
  • Psychotic behavior
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fatigue

The common psychological symptoms of bath salts are:

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Lack of focus
  • Depression
  • Decreased memory
  • Increased anxiety
  • Irritability

Bath Salts Withdrawal Timeline

The timeline of withdrawal for bath salts can also vary from person to person and depends on the potency of the product ingested. However, the general timeline follows that of other stimulant drugs:

12-24 Hours: In 12 to 24 hours after last use, you may begin to feel symptoms such as cravings, restlessness, fatigue, and mood swings.

Days 2-4: Withdrawal symptoms tend to peak during this span, and you can experience “crash” symptoms. Common symptoms felt during this period include insomnia, agitation, paranoia, cramping, and trouble focusing. You can also experience severe withdrawal symptoms such as psychosis, hallucinations, and tremors.

Days 5-7: By the end of the first week of withdrawal, the physical symptoms typically subside. If you are a heavy user of bath salts, you may go through a longer withdrawal period. Plus, psychological symptoms such as cravings, anxiety, and depression will linger.

Should I Detox?

Detox from bath salts is necessary and life-saving. NIDA reports that prolonged use of this drug can raise blood pressure and heart rate and produce chest pain. Though delirium is considered a rare side effect, people who have this condition can suffer from dehydration, kidney failure, and a breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue.

“The worst outcomes are associated with snorting or needle injection. Intoxication from synthetic cathinones has resulted in death,” according to NIDA.

Because the symptoms associated with bath salts are so hazardous, a medically-supervised detox administered by licensed medical staff is the safest, most effective solution.

How Professional Treatment can Help you

Medical detox is the first step of professional treatment and is administered by a team of doctors, nurses, and other personnel. Medical staff will flush your body of the bath salts and other toxins and treat and alleviate withdrawal symptoms. You will be provided around-the-clock care that can last up to 7 days.

Depending on the severity of your addiction, you will be placed in a residential or outpatient treatment program. If your case is considered “high risk,” then a residential program is recommended because it will require the most comprehensive intervention and care that addresses the mental and emotional aspects of your addiction.

The evidence-based therapy and care offered in residential treatment include:

  • Behavioral therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Mindfulness
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI)
  • Family therapy
  • Life skills training

If your use is not considered severe, you can enter into an outpatient program where you can live independently and still receive comprehensive therapy, but on a part-time basis. The services offered in outpatient are:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Detoxification treatment
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Education workshops
  • Stress management
  • Relapse prevention planning
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