What Are Bath Salts (Drug)?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on July 13, 2023
4 min read

Unlike Epsom salts, Dead Sea salts, or other types of salts you might use to game up your bath time, synthetic cathinones are a powerful and illegal drug. Synthetic cathinones is the scientific name for the drug commonly known as bath salts.

Bath salts are among a group called new psychoactive substances. They give you a “high” that affects how you see others and the world around you. Their effects are similar to the effects of amphetamine and ecstasy (MDMA).

Bath salts are not approved for any medical use. Risks from using them include liver failure, mental illness, and even death.

Cathinone comes from a plant called khat, found in East Africa and southern Arabia. You can chew the leaves of the khat plant to get a mild stimulant effect. The human-made version of cathinone in bath salts is stronger and more dangerous.

Bath salts are sometimes used as a cheap substitute for stimulants like cocaine. Research shows that one common synthetic cathinone, called 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), is 10 times stronger than cocaine. 

Drug effects can include a short-term increase in energy and mood and acting strangely friendly to others.

Bath salts (synthetic cathinones) look and feel a lot like Epsom salts.

People often sell bath salts on the internet. In purest form, the drug is a light brown or white crystallized powder. It usually comes in plastic bags or foil labeled as bath salts, glass cleaner, or even plant food. Sellers do this to confuse law enforcement.

The drug doesn’t contain any ingredients from bathwater products.

Synthetic cathinones have other street names, including:

  • Stardust
  • Vanilla sky
  • Ocean burst
  • Blizzard
  • Pure ivory
  • Bath powder

You can buy the powder in capsules or tablets that you can swallow. Some people also:

  • Snort it 
  • Smoke it 
  • Inject it as a liquid

Snorting and injecting bath salts are the most dangerous methods. People who use the drug this way are more likely to overdose.

On average, the effects of bath salts last 3 to 4 hours. You can have what is called “excited delirium.” If you have this, you will get dehydrated, your muscle tissue will begin to break down, and your kidneys may stop working.

Short-term psychological effects of bath salts can include:

  • Depression
  • Delirium 
  • Psychosis
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Panic attacks 
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there)
  • Irritability

If you use bath salts for a long time, you can become suspicious (paranoid) of others. 

Even if it’s your first time using bath salts, you could die from an overdose.

Along with these psychological effects, the drug can trigger physical effects, including:

  • Nosebleeds
  • Nausea
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Loss of muscle control 
  • High blood pressure and heart rate
  • Headaches 
  • Teeth grinding
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Prolonged pupil dilation 
  • Palpitations 
  • Sweating
  • Heart attack

It’s easy to get addicted to bath salts. You can get intense withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them, which make it hard not to use again.

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Shaking
  • Depression

Bath salt overuse can be treated with behavioral therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy.

There are no approved medications that treat addiction to synthetic cathinones.

Reach out to your doctor or therapist to learn what resources are available for you.

It’s never advisable to take an illegal drug. When you buy a street drug, you never know exactly what’s in it.

There is no “safe” way to use bath salts, but there are precautions you can take to keep them from becoming even more dangerous, including:

Keep yourself hydrated. This is very important because of the dehydration bath salts cause. Drink plenty of water before and during your time on the drug.

Don’t do it alone. Be around friends you trust. You’ll need at least one person who will stay drug-free during the session. They’ll need to call for help if a problem happens.

Avoid snorting or injecting the drug. Taking the drug by capsules or tablets is less dangerous than these methods.

Speak up if you feel sick. If you feel sick or like something is wrong, get immediate medical help. Call 911 if you have any loss of muscle control, chest pain, or difficulty breathing, or if you or someone you know overdoses.

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts while using bath salts, call or text 988 (the national suicide hotline). You can also chat with someone at www.988lifeline.org.