The misuse of bath salts has become an alarming trend over the past several years, with the internet serving as the primary marketplace for users to get them. Although labeled “not for consumption,” the drugs are structurally and functionally similar to a number of controlled and illicit substances, including cocaine and ecstasy, and can be abused for their euphoric effects.
“Despite the fact that bath salts are generally combinations of synthetic compounds known as cathinones, current research has focused on studies of the individual cathinones contained within bath salts,” Pond said. “Our laboratory has begun studying both individual and combined effects of the drugs.”
So far, Pond says she has found evidence that the drugs, when used in combination with each other, exponentially increase the levels of dopamine, a chemical messenger, in certain regions of the brain. The immediate dramatic increase in dopamine may result in damage to brain cells, and recent research from Pond’s lab indicates that chronic exposure to combined cathinones leads to the depletion of dopamine, which may be indicative of brain cell loss.
“Our research will answer pertinent questions regarding the long-term toxicities of bath salts,” Pond said. “Essentially, we are hypothesizing that chronic exposure to combined synthetic drugs causes toxicity to certain regions of the brain.”
Although progress has been made in understanding bath salts, physicians and other health care providers still struggle with the best treatment for overdose and addiction, Pond noted.
“These bath salts produce dangerous health effects, including hypertension, respiratory distress, violent behavior, seizures, suicidality and even death,” she said. “So a better comprehension of the acute and chronic effects of these compounds is critical.”
Pond is conducting her research through a grant awarded to her by the ETSU Research Development Committee.