The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Just Say No Too … Bath Salts?

(Or, An Ounce of Treatment, Pt.2)

I don’ think this is what anyone meant by “Calgon, take me away.” (Ed. Note: I know the bath salts in question are in no way associated with Calgone bath beads or other products. It just seemed like a good line.)

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When Neil Brown got high on bath salts, he took his skinning knife and slit his face and stomach repeatedly. Brown survived, but authorities say others haven’t been so lucky after snorting, injecting or smoking powders with such innocuous-sounding names as Ivory Snow, Red Dove and Vanilla Sky.

Law enforcement agents and poison control centers say the bath salts, with their complex chemical names, are an emerging menace in several U.S. states where authorities talk of banning their sale. Some say their effects can be as powerful as those of methamphetamine.

From the Deep South to California, emergency calls are being reported over exposure to the stimulants the powders often contain: mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV.

Sold under such names as Ivory Wave, Bliss, White Lightning and Hurricane Charlie, the chemicals can cause hallucinations, paranoia, a rapid heart rate and suicidal thoughts, authorities say. In addition to bath salts, the chemicals can be found in plant foods that are sold legally at convenience stores and on the Internet. However, they aren’t necessarily being used for the purposes on the label.

Still, I’m not sure that banning bath salts is the answer.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York says he wants the federal government to ban new designer drugs known as bath salts that pack as much punch as cocaine or methamphetamines.

The small, inexpensive packets of powder are meant to be snorted for a hallucination-inducing high, but they are often marketed with a wink on the Internet or in convenience stores as bathing salts.

The Democratic senator is announcing a bill Sunday that would add those chemicals to the list of federally controlled substances. He is also pushing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ban the substance in the state.

I get that Schumer is not talking about banning bath salts so much as drugs-masquerading-as-bath-salts. And I understand the danger after reading the horror stories of people who took this stuff and either died of it or because of the hallucinations and behaviors that ensue after using it. There seems almost to be a subculture of people who know it’s not just a bath salt, and the directions on the packaging are basically a “wind and nod” towards the intended “off label” use.

But because Ivory Wave in its many guises is never packaged, sold or officially marketed as a drug, its manufacturers do not provide recommended dosages.

In fact, most packets only feature the warning ‘ not for human consumption’ and what appear to be coded instructions.

‘Start with [adding] a very tiny amount to your bath to see your body’s tolerance,’ reads one website.

‘Once you get used to the strong effect of Ivory Wave in your bath you can use more to reach the complete relaxation you want.’

But on web forums, recreational users debate its contents and compare notes on its effects. Some claim to have enjoyed a euphoric high, but many others – particularly in recent months – warn of its extreme effects ( paranoia, disorientation, hallucinations and a rapid heart-rate) and of the vastly differing strengths of each packet.

That it’s sold on convenience store shelves makes me shudder to think of someone unknowingly buying it thinking it really is a bath salt, and then a child accidentally ingesting some of it. (Anyone who has or has had small children know what they can get up to in the time it takes for you to go to the bathroom, answer the phone, or put the laundry in the drier. It happens to even the most attentive parents.) It’s not a stretch to imagine some distraught parent standing in the middle of an emergency room saying “I just didn’t know,” and “I only turned away for a minute.”

Just like Loko and the other caffeinated alcohol drinks that the FDA deemed unsafe last year, I lean towards thinking that this product shouldn’t be on the shelves if it’s dangerous and being sold as something it’s not. (Gee, it looks like a soft drink. How bad could it be?) And even changed my mind about things that are not dangerous in and of themselves, but easily used to make drugs like crystal meth. In the past, I complained about having to go the the pharmacy counter or have my name and address taken down if I tried to purchase, say, allergy medicine or a decongestant with pseudo-ephedrine in it. Now, I don’t mind it, so much.

That said, it found myself sighing “Here we go again,” upon reading about Schumer’s efforts. Not because I believe this stuff isn’t dangerous or that it should be freely available on the internet or retail store shelves. I breathed a sigh because I’m beginning to wonder when people start getting the idea that prohibition isn’t all that effective when it comes to fighting addiction.

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You might think our biggest experiment with it was back when the 18th amendment ushered in an age of organized crime instead of an age of temperance, because prohibition did nothing to decrease demand. And since where there’s demand there’s potential profit to be made by those who can figure out how to supply the desired product, laws not withstanding, it’s inevitable that various “entrepreneurs” will rise to the occasion.

Al Capone’s grandchildren, in a sense, are the neighborhood crack dealer, the pot dealing college student, the meth “cook” selling his wares in suburbia and rural America, and perhaps even the purveyors of “Ivory Wave.” Having found what I can only guess to be their website, it looks unlike any other business or corporate site I’ve every seen; a contact page and little else. The phrase “legal highs” in the title suggests that it’s a drug masquerading as a bath salt, because truth in advertising is not what moves products in their business. The link to “Partner Affiliate Site” — which advertises “Legal Highs,” “Herbal Highs,” and “Party Pills” — pretty much removes any doubt that this is a drug intended to produce a “legal high” pretending to be a harmless bath product. (Go read their “Terms and Conditions” for more “wink and nod” disclaimers. Maybe you’ll come away convinced that their customers buy their products for “scientific research purposes.”)

The lack of clarity on the ingredients is another red flag. Most legitimate manufacturers will tell you what’s in their product. Even if you don’t know what xantham gum or yellow #5 really are, it’s right there on the label. Not so with Ivory wave. Apparently, if you want to know what’s in it, you’ll have to get a chemistry degree and then figure out the formula for yourself. This article explains why.

Here is the problem: openly selling legal drugs has become extremely difficult. If a vendor honestly identifies the ingredients of a blend it will only accelerate the rate at which the drug is scheduled after someone is hospitalised for abusing it like a moron. If I stagger into A&E clutching my chest moaning “Ivory Waaaave”, nobody really knows what I took, thus it cannot be banned immediately. Here is the second problem: eventually someone will figure out the contents of a given blend and when they do it will be banned. So the contents must continuously evolve in order to evade classification. This means that the MDPV containing Ivory Wave of March 2010 may see many incarnations by the time this article is printed. Quoth Heraclitus: “Upon those who rail bath salts the same ever different stimulants flow.”

Here is the third problem: the good people behind Ivory Wave do not want you or I to steal their proprietary drug formulae, so they keep the ingredients hidden to minimise competition—assuming they actually know the ingredients—it’s entirely possible that they have no idea whatsoever. Which means the only people who really know what is in these blends are the Chindian chemists who are synthesising them, i.e. the only people who are not snuffing them. This is an epoch of not-giving-a-shitness in the drug-consuming commonwealth. As our drug laws become increasingly strict, pure chemical compounds will all but disappear. Eventually we will enter an age where even the blends are simply blends of blends, and you will be lucky if you can find a metablend containing a few granules of the unknown drug(s) in Ivory Wave.

Maybe “Ivory Wave,” under all of its aliases, should be illegal. But if it is eventually banned, I’m willing to bet my next mortgage payment that we’ll be reading about the next “new” legal or not-yet-banned high, because people who want to get high, etc., will keep finding ways to do so, and people who sell products that get people high will keep trying to reach their market.

It’s like trying to keep obsessed teenage lovers apart. It’s great fodder for musical theater and classic drama. The problem is, it doesn’t work and someone usually ends up getting hurt in the process.

But, like I wanted to point out when I started this series of posts back in 2009 (yes, it took me a while to get back to it, but part 3 will follow much sooner than part 2 did), it doesn’t have to be that way.

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