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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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'Bath Salts' Used to Get High Are Now Illegal

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Declares a Temporary Ban on the Risky Drugs
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 8, 2011 - Bath salts -- dangerous drugs sold with a wink to people seeking a "legal high" -- will soon be illegal to possess or sell in the U.S.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has invoked its emergency authority "necessary to protect the public from the imminent hazard posed by these dangerous chemicals."

The action will take effect 30 days from today. It will remain in effect for 12 months, with a possible six-month extension. This gives the Department of Health and Human Services time to lay the groundwork for a permanent law banning the drugs.

Specifically, the DEA action targets three of the drugs commonly sold as "bath salts," "plant food/fertilizer," or even as "toy cleaner." The drugs are among a large number of new designer drugs popping up in retail stores, head shops, and on the World Wide Web.

The drugs now declared to be Schedule I substances -- the most restricted category -- are:

  • Mephedrone (methylmethcathinone, also known as M-Cat, Meow, 4-MMC, or Bubbles)
  • Methylone (methylenedioxymethcathinone, also known as bk-MDMA, M1, or Explosion)
  • Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV, also known as NRG-1)

"Bath Salts" Drugs Untested, Dangerous

Mephedrone and methylone are synthetic chemical derivatives of the psychedelic herb khat. All three of the newly banned drugs share properties of stimulants, such as methamphetamine, and psychedelics (or empathogens), such as ecstasy. Users of these drugs are reported to compulsively seek repeated doses.

"There is no tolerance for those who manufacture, distribute, or sell these drugs anywhere in the country," DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart says in a news release. "Those who do will be shut down, arrested, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The DEA notes that 33 states "have already taken action to control or ban these or other synthetic substances."

But in interviews with WebMD earlier this year, representatives of both the DEA and the National Institute for Drug Abuse said that underground chemists keep churning out new versions of mind-altering drugs. Because each substance must be specifically declared illegal, these drugmakers try to stay one step ahead of the law.

None of these drugs has been tested in humans. Unlike drugs approved for human consumption, none is made under an open and controlled manufacturing process. Users often do not know which drug they actually are taking -- making it impossible to control dosage, which differs drastically from drug to drug.

Poison control centers are receiving increasing numbers of calls reporting adverse reactions, the DEA says.

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