Doctor Tried Bath Salts and Liked It: In Defense of Bath Salts

Posted: June 8th, 2012 | Filed under: bath salts, drugs, legalization, media bias | 10 Comments »

Doctor Tried Bath Salts and Liked It

On May 26, 2012, a naked Rudy Eugene ate the face of Ronald Poppo by a Miami causeway. That evening CBS Miami featured the following interchange between news anchor Cynthia Demos and reporter Tiffani Helberg:

Cynthia Demos: The officer believes the man clearly, clearly was on some very, very powerful drugs.

Tiffani Helberg: That’s right, Cynthia. The Fraternal Order of Police president [Armando Aguilar] tells me this crop of LSD [bath salts] is a major threat to police officers as well as the rest of us. He says it turns normal people into monsters that possess this superhuman strength and no ability to feel pain. He believes that’s what was behind the incident that unfolded here …. (5)

The Truth

Everything Helberg said was false and there was no evidence Eugene was on drugs. However, based largely on Aguilar’s specious speculation the media released an avalanche of drug bashing on bath salts. Bath salts usually refer to synthetic versions of cathinone, the psychoactive chemical in the khat bush. Khat leaves have been consumed by Africans for over 700 years without being associated with bizarre behavior. They use it in the same cultural manner that Westerners use caffeine.

Cathinones are merely stimulants. When researchers go beyond colorful anecdotes and urban myths the evidence is scant that stimulants cause violence and they certainly do not cause superhuman strength or an inability to feel pain. (6) Extreme use of any stimulant – even caffeine – can cause temporary psychosis, and can trigger schizophrenia in those that are predisposed to it. (These effects are not limited to drugs. Extreme sleep deprivation can also cause temporary psychosis, and any highly stressful event can trigger schizophrenia in those that are predisposed.)

Psychosis and drug use are not statistically significant predictors of violence by themselves. It is only when both are combined with violent tendencies that it is problematic. (3,7) Violent people and those with severe mental health issues should avoid overusing stimulants, just like they should avoid overusing the drug whose correlation with violence dwarfs all others – alcohol. (2) (Read about “Legal Drug Linked to More Cannibalism than Bath Salts.”)

The Doctor Who Had Fun

Extreme behavior from using bath salts is rare and yet the media insists on presenting only the horror stories. They take sensational quotes from doctors and police whose sole exposure to cathinone users is from emergency rooms and crime scenes. If doctors and police only had exposure to drinkers in emergency rooms and crime scenes their view of alcohol would be just as distorted.* (For another reason for distortion see “The Banana Effect: How Drugs Get a Bad Rap from Their Users.”)

If the media bothered to quote typical cathinone users, the public would hear more stories like that of the British medical doctor, Max Pemberton. Pemberton had heard his patients rave about the drug mephedrone that they enjoyed taking on the weekends. (Mephedrone is one of the cathinones commonly sold as bath salts. It was sold in Britain not as a bath salt, but as a plant food, and acquired the street name meow-meow.) When he asked his friends about mephedrone – a lawyer, an architect, and two people in publishing – they all told him “how good it was.” Pemberton tried it with another doctor and some friends on a Saturday in March of 2010. This is how he described the experience:

A few minutes later, we were all sitting around in a euphoric haze, smiling benignly but with an incomprehensible, overwhelming desire to dance. It was nearly impossible to keep still. Then things became very vivid and real and everything everyone said suddenly became very important. Before we knew it we were piling into a cab, laughing and giggling uncontrollably and going to a club. The effects lasted for about another two hours …. I’d love to be able to tell you that I had a hideous time when I took mephedrone but the truth is, I didn’t. It was a lovely feeling and I can completely understand why people would use it. (8)

Ignorant Newspaper Editors

The British media sensationalized mephedrone in 2009 just as the American media is now. Yellow journalism resulted in stories about mephedrone deaths including Gabrielle Price, a 14-year-old girl. She was made the poster child of mephedrone evil even though a later investigation found that she died of pneumonia – not mephedrone. Of the 27 fatalities attributed to mephedrone by the screaming press, coroners eventually determined that only two could have been caused by mephedrone. (To read how drug deaths are often fabricated read, “Billy Mays’ Corpse Gets Trampled by Cocaine Hype.”) A headline grabber about a boy on mephedrone who ripped his scrotum off was also later debunked. (4)

Mephedrone was banned in the UK in April 2010. A member of the UK’s independent expert body that advises the government on drug-related issues quit because of pressure by media and politicians to make a quick decision on banning mephedrone without examining the evidence. (1) The New Scientist wrote of the ban:

If governments continue to tailor their drugs policies to pacify loud but ignorant newspaper editors, their policies will soon cease to be relevant in the real world. If they want their drugs policy to work, it must be thoughtful, rational and evidence-based, not a cynical, politically motivated stunt to pacify the editors of tabloid newspapers. (9)

(For an alternate theory of the Causeway Cannibal read “Did Bible Study and Anti-Drug Vow Cause Miami Cannibal Attack?”)

* This phenomenon is called the clinician’s error and is explained in more detail at Maia Szalavitz’s article at Time.com, “Why Drugs Are Getting a Bum Rap in the Miami Face-Eating Attack.”

Addendum (June 28, 2012) – The full toxicology report of Rudy Eugene released on June 27, 2012 reported that the only drug found in his body was marijuana. The common chemicals in drugs sold as bath salts were absent. LINK

Sources

1. “A Collapse in Integrity of Scientific Advice in the UK,” Lancet, 17 Apr. 2010. LINK
2. Martin Brecher, et al., “Phencyclidine and Violence,” J. Clin. Psychopharmacol., Dec. 1988.
3. Eric Elbogen & Sally Johnson, “Intricate Link Between Violence and Mental Disorder,” Arch. Gen. Psychiatry, Feb. 2009.
4. Nic Fleming, “Truth About Mephedrone,” New Scientist, 24 Apr. 2010.
5. Tiffani Helberg, “Miami Police Shoot, Kill Man Eating Another Man’s Face,” CBSLocal.com, 26 May 2012. LINK
6. Peter Hoaken & Sherry Stewart, “Drugs of Abuse and the Elicitation of Human Aggressive Behavior,” Addict. Behav., 2003, 28.
7. Rick Nauert, “Mental Illness Does Not Predict Violence,” PsychCentral.com, 26 Feb. 2009.
8. Max Pemberton, “I Took Mephedrone and I Liked It,” Telegraph.co.uk, 20 Mar. 2010. LINK
9. “Politics of Facebook,” New Scientist, 24 Apr. 2010.


10 Comments on “Doctor Tried Bath Salts and Liked It: In Defense of Bath Salts”

  1. 1 Doctor tried bath salts and liked It said at 7:09 pm on June 8th, 2012:

    […] Doctor Tried Bath Salts and Liked It: In Defense of Bath Salts […]

  2. 2 » Doctor tried bath salts…and liked it said at 11:40 am on June 9th, 2012:

    […] drug has stimulated Dr Max Pemberton’s curiosity whom decided to try the drug…and liked it.[Via]Share this:ShareFacebookRedditStumbleUponEmailDiggTags: Illegal drug trade, Zombie← Huge […]

  3. 3 David said at 5:26 pm on June 10th, 2012:

    Its more exciting to believe we are on they verge of a zombie apocalypse.

  4. 4 Protoguy said at 9:09 pm on June 10th, 2012:

    I’ve been waiting for more than “police believe” or “so and so says it’s obviously”…

    Toxicology reports don’t take weeks.

  5. 5 Jules said at 1:14 am on June 11th, 2012:

    Touche’ David….when the time comes, Ill have all the bath salts i need. At present, I’ll decline thank you very much…..

  6. 6 Cathinones: Please, Don't Call Them Bath Salts - Alt Variety said at 9:01 am on June 22nd, 2012:

    […] Polo’s post on thedoctorwhotriedbathsaltsandlikedit serves as a more common example of the use of synthetic cathinones. A […]

  7. 7 craschworks / Doctor Tried Bath Salts and Liked It: In Defense of Bath Salts said at 1:19 pm on June 27th, 2012:

    […] Narco Polo is a fantastic blog for puncturing the myths and moral panics that surround recreational drug use.  […]

  8. 8 A-slice said at 12:48 pm on July 2nd, 2012:

    Weird. I don’t think I’d take that. People do have ‘bad trips”. I’m more afraid of a bad trip while on the drug than I am curious to take the drug. But that’s just me. Best stick with something proven to be safe. (And make brownies with it.)

  9. 9 Odessa’s Coolest Bookstore Hosts Far West Texas’ First Bath Salts Bust « The Aerostat said at 1:51 pm on September 24th, 2012:

    […] This British MD says bath salts are totally cool and gave him a “lovely feeling.” Share […]

  10. 10 Nazis Used Meth? 5 Things to Know About One of the World's Favorite Stimulants said at 3:30 am on June 21st, 2013:

    […] phenomenon. (Both the cack-baby and the bath-salts cannibalism stories have been debunked; see here and […]


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