130723 zombie2A few months ago, I received a call from a local journalist.  It wasn’t the first time, but I’m always flattered when I’m called upon for my expertise and experience.  The subject is usually related to some trend or event that sells papers or garners viewers, but I confess I was taken by surprise: the reporter wanted to talk about zombies. 

New York and Miami had recently seen attacks where – in a psychotic rage – suspects had attempted to eat the face off an unwitting victim.   The culprit in both cases seemed to be bath salts.

“Let’s get down to the question everybody is dying to ask,” he said. “Will using bath salts make me eat my spouse’s face off?”  Yes, I told him, but only under some very specific conditions.  You’ve likely combined it with other psychoactive chemicals, you’re already suffering from some preexisting mental illness, and your spouse richly deserves it.

Kidding aside, the truth is the person most likely to be hospitalized or die from bath salts is not some faceless victim: it’s you. Symptoms you can expect from ingesting this drug are hallucinations, agitation, suicidal thoughts, chest pains, high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat.

130723 zombie1Bath salts is the street name for the latest type of designer drug. It comes in several forms and can be snorted, swallowed or injected. A designer drug is a derivative of an existing psychoactive drug that has been chemically modified with the goal of preserving the mind-altering properties of the original while skirting drug laws. In other words, if I can change a few molecules in the lab, I have a ‘legal’ drug that I can sell for low cost at high profit anywhere from convenience stores to specialty head shops. Bath salts contain two psychoactive chemicals that are synthetic forms of the Khat plant, which is typically found in East Africa and is illegal here. Why is it called bath salts? Nobody really knows, but my guess is because it trips off the tongue easier than 3,4-Methylenedioxypyrovalerone.

So who uses bath salts?  Typically people who have already been immersed in the drug culture for some time.  Your maiden aunt isn’t going to walk into 7-11 and say, ‘Hey, I think I’ll try bath salts!’  But frequent drug users have become inured to the legal and social prohibitions of using drugs, and even common sense has taken a hit. So you’re dealing with a population that isn’t going to listen much to warnings about this stuff.

As far as I can tell, there haven’t been any reports of drug fueled cannibalism in Sarasota, so you probably don’t need to worry about being attacked. But bath salts are far from benign.

130723 zombie3The constant change in formula is hazardous. Think of the movie Multiplicity: Michael Keaton, a busy suburban dad and husband, makes a copy of himself to take charge of things while he’s at work. It works beautifully, so he makes another clone. And another. With each iteration, though, the copy degrades, with unexpected and calamitous consequences. It’s the same with designer drugs, but without the humor: You never know who made it, how far this version is from the original, the potency and what side effects you can expect. Substance abuse is my field — I’ve been around long enough that I don’t consider myself an alarmist, but this stuff scares the bejesus out of me.

I think I’ll stick to my current drug of choice: a Skinny Vanilla Latte.

For more information on bath salts, read on.