Bath Salt “Epidemic” Overhyped

Bath salt use shown to be lower than many other drugs

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) There have been exaggerations about the so-called “bath salt epidemic.” It turns out that the use of heroin is more common than that of bath salts among college kids, but both are rare.

A recent study surveyed a group of college students to see how many people had actually been using the street drug known as “bath salts.”

The researchers found that despite media attention, the use of bath salts among the students was around 1 percent.

"Don’t use bath salts."

John M. Stogner, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was the lead author of this study of college students' use of bath salts.

Bath salts contain synthetic cathinones, which work like a stimulant in the brain. Until 2011, synthetic cathinones were sold legally in convenience stores and online in the US.

According to the authors, previous reports linked suicide and homicide to bath salt use. Even bizarre and shocking behaviors such as self-surgery, cannibalism and bestiality, were also linked to the use of bath salts. These reports sparked a minor panic over bath salts in the US.

The study authors mentioned the following fear mongering headlines in the media: “Bath salt abuse hits epidemic proportions,” “has exploded,” and “runs rampant.”

The study authors suggested that this media coverage might have been skewed as poison control centers only reported around 600 incidents per month involving bath salts when use was still legal and peaked in 2011.

For this study, the researchers surveyed 2,349 students at a large Southeastern university in the US in 2012.

The researchers found that only 25 students, or 1 percent of the group, had ever used bath salts. Only 13 of those 25 students had used bath salts in the past year. And only 3 students said they had used bath salts more than once in a month.

The students reported using 16 different types of substances, including alcohol and tobacco, the least of which was bath salts. More students had used heroin or methamphetamines than bath salts.

Marijuana use was reported by 58 percent of students and cocaine use was reported by 9 percent of students.

Of the 25 students who had used bath salts, 19 were male and 14 were white.

The authors classified the use of bath salts as ‘rare’ among young adults.

“The media attention on synthetic cathinones (bath salts) appears to be disproportionate to its use in the USA,” the study authors wrote.

The US Navy has launched an aggressive campaign, employing dramatic scare tactics, against the use of bath salts. 

“Given our findings, we question whether these resources may be misplaced,” the authors wrote.

The researchers recommended future large scale studies on the use of bath salts in the US to “...further assess the real extent of the danger synthetic cathinone use poses.”

This study was published in May in Drug and Alcohol Review.

The authors listed no outside funding sources. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 31, 2013
Last Updated:
August 19, 2013