The recent story of a Miami man, 31-year-old Rudy Eugene, who went on a naked rampage, attacking a homeless man and chewing off his face before being shot dead by police, has caught national attention because of the horrific nature of the crime. The news has also brought to light a drug that has since mostly escaped national attention, a narcotic that apparently goes by the street name, "bath salts."
Given the grisly and bizarre nature of the events that unfolded on May 26, it's almost certain that this drug will merit a closer look by police and public health authorities.
Although frequently described as the "new LSD," or lysergic acid diethylamide, bath salts in fact don't have much in common with the hallucinogen of the psychedelic '60s. Both drugs are synthetic substances, but the similarities don't extend to the drugs' primary effects.
While the main effect of LSD is to create visual hallucinations and distortions of time and space perceptions, depending on the dosage employed, "bath salts" are in fact an amphetamine-like chemical, as CNN.com notes, "such as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone, and pyrovalerone."
Bath salts can be smoked, snorted or injected. Hallucinations may be a side effect of using bath salts, but the main effects are similar to other stimulants, such as cocaine or crystal methamphetamine. Psychoactive effects include increased alertness, euphoria, agitation and more. Physiological effects include high blood pressure and increased heart rate, according to a report by WebMD.
And those are just the effects under the best-case scenario. The worst - aside from what was seen on May 29 - can be severe aggressiveness, paranoia, psychosis, depression, suicidal thoughts and even death.
Bath salts are a relatively new class of narcotic known as designer drugs. The intent of drug producers is to create a substance that flies under the radar because it is technically not illegal to manufacture and sell.
If and when that particular drug becomes illegal, a new substance is created that has similar intended effects, but with a different chemical combination. These products also skirt the law by claiming on their packaging that they're "not for human consumption," even though the drug is loaded with innuendos implying their true purpose.
A growing number of emergency room visits in the United States have already been tied to bath salt abuse. Poison control centers also handled more than 250 calls related to bath salts in the first two months of 2011, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. That's more than the number of calls received in all of 2010.
Because these drugs are so new, little is known beyond effects observed immediately in the short-term by users and medical professional who end up treating them. Lack of research on these substances means there's no reliable information on whether these drugs are addictive, what the long-term consequences might be, and how frequently used and widely spread these narcotics are.
They're also sold under names that provide no real identifying information to the user as to what they're ingesting. All that in combination makes bath salts, and similar designer drugs, especially dangerous.