Study: “Bath salts” may be more addictive than meth

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Image courtesy of the U.S. DEA.

A synthetic drug commonly known as bath salts may be more addictive than methamphetamine, which is widely regarded as being one of the world’s most addictive substances.

The study showed rats who could get doses of bath salts (technically 3,4-methylenedioypyrovalerone, or MDPV) by pressing a lever would press the lever 600 times for a dose of the drug, whereas they usually only pressed the lever 60 times for a  dose of meth. Some rats went so far as to complete 3,000 lever presses for a dose of MDPV, according to a statement from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI).

“If you consider these lever presses a measure of how much a rat will work to get a drug infusion, then these rats worked more than 10 times harder to get MDPV,” said Shawn M. Aarde, the first author on the study and a TSRI research associate, in a statement.

Like other bath salt-type drugs, MDPV is derived from cathinone, which is the main active ingredient in khat, a leaf that provides stimulant effects when chewed. Khat is used throughout northeast Africa and in areas of the Middle East. It is banned in the U.S., Canada and much of Europe, and soon will be banned in the United Kingdom (U.K.) as well. Earlier this month, U.K. officials decided khat will be listed as a class C drug, the same designation as ketamine and anabolic steroids, BBC reports.

Cathinone blocks the removal of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonine and noradrenaline, which disrupts normal brain activity. Side effects include euphoria, insomnia, loss of appetite and heightened physical activity along with cravings for more bath salts. Unfortunately, higher doses also are associated with violence, paranoid psychosis and suicide, according TSRI.

“MDPV looks like it’s going to stick around as a recreational stimulant because it is so potent,” said TSRI Associate Professor Michael A. Taffe, principal investigator for the study.

The full report is slated for publication in Neuropharmacology’s August print edition.

The popularity of synthetic drugs, such as bath salts, has been growing in recent years in part due to them being sold as “legal highs” (they often are sold in head shops and convenience stores as incense or plant food). To combat this, officials in many countries have begun banning the active ingredients in these drugs as manufacturers often simply change an ingredient once the drug is banned in order to skirt the rules. In 2012, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 2,656 calls related to bath salts. In the U.S., the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) used its emergency scheduling authority to list synthetic cathinones and synthetic cannabinoids (spice or fake pot) as Schedule I substances, meaning they have no accepted medical use and have a high potential for abuse. These also joined the 26 compounds designated as Schedule I by Congress in 2012.

Last month, the DEA announced the largest ever global bust of synthetic drug trafficking as part of Project Synergy, which began in December 2012. The project seized 299 kilograms of cathinone drugs.

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