Several violent, horrific crimes (including cannibalism) across the United States have authorities looking more closely at a widely-available, legal synthetic drug known as “bath salts.” Unfortunately, much like “Spice,” the synthetic marijuana that Demi Moore was rumored to have used before she was hospitalized last year, bath salts are made up of various chemical compounds and sold under a variety of names–making them harder to criminalize than drugs like cocaine or marijuana. They’re also much, much more dangerous.
Not to be confused with the lavender-scented crystals you buy on Etsy and keep near the tub, the bath salts that have been blamed for deaths from coast to coast for several years are sold in bodegas and smoke shops to anyone over the age of 18. They’re usually sold under names like “Purple Wave” or “Bliss” for the purpose of being snorted or otherwise ingested (sometimes intravenously, like in the case of this woman who lost an arm shooting them directly into her bloodstream)–despite being labeled “not for human consumption.” And because they’re not being marketed as a drug, so far, there’s been little effort to criminalize them, despite the fact that they’ve been behind plenty of terrifying events.
Senator Chuck Schumer in New York was one of the first politicians to speak out about the drug, way back in January of 2011–but at the time, little was known about the drug or its impact. However, following the recent string of violent crimes (like the “face-eating” horror in Miami) and increased hospital visits and overdoses as a result of using the drug, more lawmakers and drug enforcement agencies have caught on to the drug’s dangerous effects. This week, is seems, everyone wants to crack down on bath salts. Just yesterday, the city of Detroit announced a ban on the drugs–and in May, the US Senate voted in favor of a ban, as well.
But unlike other, illegal hallucinogens (like mushrooms or LSD), bath salts, like Spice, can be made up of a variety of difficult-to-control chemicals, making criminalization sort of a moving target. And because the drug is sold so inexpensively and produces such a powerful high, it’s become popular not only with teens, but with at-risk adults and the homeless. Which points to the more pressing concern: that, despite the risks, when dumb, dangerous, potentially lethal drugs are legal and inexpensive, people will buy them.
That’s an argument that’s made some in the pro-marijuana legalization camp speak up on behalf of cannabis, which is much easier to regulate and is far, far less dangerous than synthetic drugs like Spice and bath salts. Just today, a report of areas surrounding medical marijuana dispensaries found that neighborhoods are not negatively impacted by their presence. And, when regulated and monitored, marijuana essentially never contains the kinds of things that cause psychotic breaks, hallucinations, or violent crime.
Unfortunately, where there’s a profit to be made and consumer demand, there will always be products to fill the demand. And as long as less-dangerous drugs like marijuana remain illegal, these legal “synthetics” will continue to skirt the law (even after criminalization, which seems like a sure thing at this point) and flood the market. At this point, the best we can do is educate potential buys of the dangers.
Image: Kei Shooting via Shutterstock