Understanding the Bath Salts Beginning

I know this is an international blog, but I feel the need to continue to discuss the “Bath Salts” issue plaguing the United States. Even with countless news reports on the dangers of Bath Salts, people are still using them. While it is true that there have been news reports about the dangers of many drugs that are imported from other countries and people still use them, it amazes me that report after report about the deaths from Bath Salts are not deterring people from using them. I wanted to find out where Bath Salts came from and how this drug hit the market. PBS did an article called “the Drug that Never Lets Go” by Jenny Marder, that answered my question and I thought I would share it with everyone on the blog.

It turns out that the drug known as “Bath Salts” started in the 1970’s by a medicinal chemist named Richard A. Glennon. He was studying what it would take to convert a stimulant drug to a halluninogen inorder to determine how these substances work in the brain. While he was tweaking the molecular structure of chemicals by introducing an oxygen atom to the side chain of amphetamine. He created a Beta-Keto amphetamine, a new class of stimulant.

No one knew what type of affect it would have on the brain but they soon found out that it reacted in the brain like no other drug out there. It was later discovered that the compound was identical to the active ingredient of a plant called Catha edulis, or khat, a plant native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula that produces an amphetamine-like high when chewed or brewed as tea. Glennon made the same change to his drug, and the already powerful stimulant became suddenly even more powerful.

In 1987, Glennon published his results in the journal, Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior. He was later contacted by a Chemist in the Soviet Union, who explained that he had not found anything new. This same substance had been in the Soviet Union since the 1970’s and the abuse rate increased in the 1980’s. In 1993, Glennon’s drug was classified by the federal government as a Schedule I substance, a category that includes heroin and LSD, and is reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

Despite being around, this drug was not a real problem until 2010, when tthe mysterious new drug “Bath Salts” was brought to Glennon’s attention and he determined that the stimulant called mephedrone was the same compound that he had synthesized years earlier. Since then many labs around the country are trying to figure out exactly why Bath Salts cause such scary reactions in the brain. People not only hallucinate, but the drug does not seem to leave the system like most drugs, so they don’t stop hallucinating, sometimes leading to suicide, murder and overdose. It is not known what can be done to stop these effects in the brain once a person has taken the drug.

How do we continue to have our scientists do research, create compounds, publish their findings in journals and at the same time protect the public from “drug chemists” in the world getting a hold of these published findings and creating new deadly street drugs? Certainly we do not want to stop scientific growth? How do we tackle this problem?

One comment

  1. A very worthwhile blog, Lindsay.

    I think it best to reserve my comments on the larger issues for another time. For now, however, I’ll comment by adding an international twist (which incidentally touches on one of your larger questions): on September 26, 2012, Canada made 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (“MDPV” ), the common ingredient contained in “bath salts,” illegal to possess, traffic, import or export. “This means all activities involving this substance are illegal, except for research and scientific activities, which must be authorized by regulation,” explained Health Canada. (http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/canada-makes-bath-salts-drug-ingredient-mdpv-illegal-1.971890#ixzz29RKWNgR2).

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