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Bath Salts May Be as Addictive as Cocaine

New research supports the recent US ban, revealing the designer drug's addictive potential.

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Bath salts are pretty....addictive. Photo via

By Valerie Tejeda

07/25/12

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Bath salts—not the stuff you use to make your bathtub smell like lavender—are just as habit-forming as cocaine, according to a new study published in the Behavioral Brain Research journal. The designer drug of the season gnawed its way in to the public consciousness after being falsely blamed for the Miami cannibal attack, and the ever-changing properties of the chemical compound have made it difficult to test. Scientists recently tested the drug's effect on mice using "intracranial self-stimulation" (ICSS)—a method that has been used for decades as a way to look at how drugs activate the reward circuitry in the brain, which can lead to addiction. Researchers trained the mice to run on a wheel and rewarded them by stimulating electrodes that had been implanted in their brains. “If you let them, an animal will work to deliver self-stimulation to the exclusion of everything else—it won't eat, it won't sleep,” says Dr. C.J. Malanga, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Certain drugs increase the brain's sensitivity to reward stimulation, which in turn makes them work harder to receive the reward. The researchers measured the mice’s wheel-spinning efforts before, during, and after they received doses of cocaine or bath salts, and they found that bath salts had the same reward potency as cocaine. These findings suggest that bath salts, although marketed until recently as a relatively benign "legal high", could be more addictive than people may realize. "All drugs of abuse, regardless of how they act in the brain—heroin, morphine, cocaine amphetamine, alcohol, do the same thing to ICSS, they increase its rewarding value," Malanga said. A ban on bath salts in the US was signed on July 9. 

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