The second generation of the designer drug known as “bath salts” are making their way across the United States, but as Smithsonian Magazine explains, that’s no reason to be concerned about a coming zombie apocalypse.
In the summer of 2012, “bath salts” were suspected of causing a “nationwide naked crime spree, with incidents ranging from the infamous case of the “Miami cannibal,” to a Louisiana man who bit off a chunk of a neighbor’s face in a “domestic matter,” to a Georgia man who threatened to eat the police while high on the drugs.
“Bath salts” is a generic name for a family of drugs containing a synthetic form of cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant that occurs naturally in the Khat plant. The synthetic cathinones, most commonly mephedrone, raise the level of dopamine in the brain in a manner similar to cocaine — but which results in a high that is ten times more potent.
A similar spike in norepinephrine causes the heart rate and blood pressure to rise. In the 2012 bath salt epidemic, the cathinone compound was combined with synthetic marijuana and asthma medications, resulting in hallucinatory states and heightened body temperature.
It is these final two effects of the drug cocktail that likely resulted in so many users in the South and Southwest stripping down and acting bizarrely, according to Helen Thompson in Smithsonian Magazine.
Thompson also notes that many of the cannibalistic stories from 2012 were incorrectly identified as being related to bath salts — including the most notorious.
Despite this, “bath salts are still often associated with cannibalism and the zombie apocalypse,” said Michael Baumann, a neurobiolgist with the Designer Drug Research Unit at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. After the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) banned the precursor ingredients for “bath salts” in 2012, chemically similar analogs of the drugs have been developed.
“There are literally hundreds of new synthetic drugs that are appearing on the scene,” Baumann said, adding that the DEA was engaged in a “designer drug arms race.” And, as he noted in an earlier interview with LiveScience, “it’s important that each of these designer drugs is examined carefully, because each one of them has unique pharmacology” despite their chemical similarities.