Bath salts could be more addictive than meth, study finds

Recreational drugs called bath salts have become infamous for their bizarre effects on drug users, causing a whole host of mind and body changes including delusions, nausea and vomiting, seizures and even death.

And now, a new study has found that the drug is not only potent – but highly addictive.

Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have found that bath salts – also known as MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone) – could actually be more addictive than methamphetamine, one of the most addictive drugs on the market.

Along with his colleagues, Michael A. Taffe, TSRI associate professor and principal investigator on the study, created an experiment in which rats were capable of dosing themselves intravenously with either MDPV or methamphetamine, just by pressing a lever.  The more times the rats pressed a lever, the more infusions of the drug they would receive.

“We observed that rats will press a lever more often to get a single infusion of MPDV than they will for meth, across a fairly wide dose range,” Taffe said.

Overall, the rats averaged around 60 lever presses for a dose of meth, compared to an average of 600 for a dose of MDPV.

“Some rats would even emit 3,000 lever presses for a single hit of MDPV,” said Shawn M. Aarde, a TSRI research assistant who was first author of the study.

Bath salt drugs are derived from cathinone, the principle active ingredient of a leaf called khat.  The plant is common throughout northeast Africa and the Arabian peninsula, where it is chewed for its stimulant effects.   Discovered by underground chemists in the early 2000s, cathinone derivatives have been sold as “bath salts” or “plant food” to skirt laws.

These drugs disrupt the regular removal of the neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin from synapses, disturbing brain activities that control desire, pleasure, muscle movements and cognition.  Bath salt users will feel initial euphoria, increased physical activity and a lack of desire to sleep or eat.  Uncontrollable cravings for the drug often lead them to take higher doses, causing paranoia, violence and even suicide.