• Bath Salts — Not for Nan’s Christmas Present!

GC-MS

Bath Salts — Not for Nan’s Christmas Present!

Mar 31 2016

Asking for bath salts on a night out in the UK and you’ll probably get some funny looks followed by instructions to either look in your Gran’s bathroom or go to the chemist. But if you ask for bath salts in the US — you might find yourself in a tricky situation. Bill, bonnet and chemist become check, hood and drug store when we cross the Atlantic. And whilst these particular idioms won’t get you in trouble — asking the wrong person for bath salts could land you in jail (or is it gaol?).

Don’t bathe with bath salts

Bath salt is the street name in the US for a type of designer drug based on khat and usually contains a synthetic cathinone. They are similar to the legal highs sold in the UK — traditionally sold in gas stations and small local convenience stores alongside groceries using names like Ivory Wave, White Lightening and Purple Sky.

The most commonly reported ingredient in ‘bath salts’ is methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) — although many other synthetic cathinones are used including mephedrone and pyrovalerone. MDPV is classed as a phenethylamine — a group of alkaloids known for their psychoactive properties — and is structurally similar to methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and cathinone, thought to be the active ingredient in khat.

Fly high then crash

Bath salts are stimulants that produce a high similar to amphetamines. It can be taken many ways including snorted, injected, smoked, swallowed or taken rectally. Users feel a euphoric rush or high after an hour or so, which lasts for a further few hours before they crash.

In the US, there was concern about rising hospital admissions following bath salt use. So certain chemicals known to be in bath salts — MDPV, mephedrone and methylone — were placed on a controlled substances list in 2012, which stops them being sold or prescribed. This makes it illegal to be in possession of these substances or any product containing them.

Detecting bath salts in the body

The speed that new legal highs or bath salts are introduced makes it very difficult for forensic testing to keep up. Although it is relatively easy to detect the substances in pills or powders, a recent study has highlighted the difficulty in detecting these substances in biological samples — for example, blood or urine.

Many labs have access to gas chromatography-mass spectrometry — used to detect some drugs in biological samples from driving offences or fatalities — but bath salts may degrade during testing. Degradation could be reduced by using lower temperatures and reducing the inlet time of the sample — factors that should be considered during method development.

The study recommends that a better alternative would be to use HPLC to analyse MDPV, as discussed in this article, HPLC-HPIMS: An Integrated Tool for 2D Separation. But due to resources and costs, LC-MS is not as widely available as GC.

So next time you’re in the US and need a bath — be careful what you ask for.

Image via Wikimedia commons

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