Injection Drug Users Prone to Consuming Bath Salts, Synthetic Marijuana

Injection Drug Users Prone to Consuming Bath Salts, Synthetic Marijuana

Bath salts” and synthetic marijuana are two recently developed classes of illicit/illegal drugs that have received significant attention from both public health officials and the media. All substances that fall into these two classes have the ability to substantially harm the health of human beings. In a study published in August 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from two U.S. universities sought to determine how often people who use injection drugs also use either bath salts or synthetic marijuana. They also looked at some of the underlying factors that make it more probable that an injection drug user will consume one of these substances.

Bath Salts and Synthetic Marijuana

The term “bath salts” is a common euphemism created to hide the mind-altering nature of a newly developed and then-unregulated group of substances called synthetic cathinones. Specific types of these substances found in bath salts include chemicals called methylone, mephedrone and MDPV. These and other synthetic cathinones are based on the active ingredients in a stimulant plant known as khat and produce forms of the classic stimulant effects (such as increased energy levels, mental agitation and heart rate increases) associated with cocaine and methamphetamine. In addition, synthetic cathinones produce some of the same sensory alteration associated with MDMA (Ecstasy, Molly) and classic hallucinogens. Potential harms linked to the use of bath salts include bouts of paranoia and/or panic, dangerous changes in heart and blood vessel function and a potentially fatal form of muscle tissue breakdown called rhabdomyolysis.

Synthetic marijuana is the widely used blanket term for a group of chemicals also known as synthetic cannabinoids and cannabimimetics. As both of these names imply, the chemicals in this class of drugs duplicate the effects of THC and other active ingredients in the cannabis plant. However, synthetic cannabinoids are often far more potent than THC or other cannabis constituents. This means that users of these substances commonly have greatly increased risks for unpleasant or dangerous THC-related effects, such as heart rate increases, spikes in blood pressure, a confused or agitated mental state and the onset of sensory hallucinations, as well as exposure to addiction-related concerns.

Injection Drug Use

The most dangerous and common form of injection drug use is intravenous injection, which provides direct access to the bloodstream. Some people also inject drugs into their muscle tissue or under their skin. Substances consumed by an injection drug user may include heroin or other opioid drugs or medications, cocaine, tranquilizing or sedative medications and amphetamines or methamphetamines. In addition to the dangers normally associated with substance abuse, injection drug users expose themselves to highly magnified risks for infection with HIV or other potentially lethal microorganisms.

How Many Multiple Users?

In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from UC San Diego and the University of Texas at Austin looked at the rate of bath salt and synthetic marijuana use in a group of 485 injection drug users over a 15-month period of time in 2012 and 2013. In addition, they conducted interviews designed to produce detailed profiles for each participant. The ultimate purpose of these interviews was to uncover the common underlying risk factors that make injection drug users more likely to initiate bath salt or synthetic marijuana intake.

The researchers concluded that roughly 30 percent of the study participants had used synthetic marijuana. They also concluded that roughly 7 percent of the participants had used some sort of bath salt/synthetic cathinone. Underlying factors that increased the odds of using synthetic marijuana included starting injection drug use with cocaine or another stimulant drug, currently serving out a period of parole or probation for a criminal offense, using prescription medications and using marijuana in the previous six months. Underlying factors that increased the odds of using bath salts included using a “club drug” (e.g., MDMA, Rohypnol or GHB) in the previous half a year and consuming methamphetamine in any form.

Based on their findings, the study’s authors believe that substantial numbers of injection drug users are at-risk for additional harm stemming from the consumption of bath salts or synthetic marijuana. They also believe that public health campaigns aimed at injection drug users should emphasize the dangers of simultaneously consuming other substances.

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