ETSU Professor Studying Effects of Bath Salts
An East Tennessee State University professor is studying the effects of bath salts — a synthetic drug not often seen these days in the Mountain Empire — on individuals who abuse them.
The misuse of bath salts had become an alarming trend over the past several years, with the internet serving as the primary marketplace. About five years ago, bath salts could be purchased over the counter in some area shops, until federal authorities put a stop to the sales. Law enforcement raided several local shops as they investigated bath salts and other synthetic drugs.
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.
Dr. Brooks Pond, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at ETSU, is now studying the effects of the synthetic drugs.
“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 said 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, according to an ETSU news release. 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, the release states.
“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 by the ETSU Research Development Committee.
Local law enforcement, who five years ago encountered bath salts on a regular basis, say they no longer find the synthetic drugs as much as they used to.
“Our agency has not encountered bath salts in well over a year,” said Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman.
The sheriff said he had no knowledge of his officers encountering bath salts, nor have there been any reports of people using the drugs.
The Bristol Tennessee Police Department also hasn’t had recent reports of bath salts.
“We still occasionally find synthetic marijuana, and not too long ago we had some cases involving Alpha PVP or gravel,” Capt. Charlie Thomas said. “I’m not aware of any bath salts cases.”
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office continues to find bath salts and other synthetic drugs in the county, according to public information officer Kristen Quon.
Sullivan County Deputy District Attorney General Gene Perrin said bath salts aren’t as common as they were just five years ago.
“We still encounter bath salts that are being shipped in by way of the mail, Federal Express, UPS, et cetera … but not to the extent we have seen in the past,” Perrin said.
Locally, methamphetamine has become the drug of choice, he added.
“I am sure the bath salts have dropped off but to what degree I am not sure due to more and more resources being devoted to meth and fentanyl and other needle dope,” Perrin said.
Bath salts and other synthetic drugs are illegal in Tennessee and Virginia.