The rising popularity of designer drugs like marijuana-like “spice” and so-called “bath salts” concocted with chemical combinations meant to give users an illegal high has emergency medical responders grappling with users who risk losing their lives – or minds – for a cheap fleeting euphoria. Worse, using bath salts could make your life seem like it is a real nightmare and cause hallucinations and paranoia so you believe your roommate and your girlfriend have turned into crazy demons.
That’s the gist of a video that Navy Medicine created last month as a public service announcement to deter sailors and Marines from using the powdery drug. The images have drawn nationwide attention to the video, the Navy’s latest public service announcement to dissuade sailors and Marines from thinking bath salts are trendy drugs that could skirt detection in drug tests.
Most PSAs are relegated to airing as late-night fillers and background noise on shipboard TV. But the video, which the Navy released in December and posted on YouTube, caught traction across national network news programs and online blogs by early January. The Navy’s YouTube video alone had nearly 429,000 views as of Jan. 7, and most viewers gave it a thumbs up. Still, its storyline drew mixed reactions from news sites and bloggers, with headlines calling it “bizarre” and “horrifying” and “more silly than scary.”
But Navy medical officials say that the danger of bath salts is no joke. “These are destructive substances,” Lt. George Loeffler, a psychiatry resident at San Diego Naval Medical Center who has studied cases and seen sailors and Marines admitted into the hospital’s psychiatric ward for treatment, told us last week.
While users might not worry about serious health effects from bath salts, the quick high they seek usually isn’t gone by morning. “They are continuing to have, more prominently, these paranoid delusions,” said Loeffler, who is featured in the Navy video detailing the health effects of the drug. Worse, “it’s distorted beliefs. They tend to be scary and malevolent beliefs that people have. It persists for a good period of time. We’ve seen days, and weeks.”
The big fear – aside from the physical risks like heart attacks – is that users could cause permanent damage to their brains and incur long-term psychosis. “What are the consequences down the road of using these substances?” said Loeffler. “We don’t know.”
The Navy’s latest education campaign is part of the increased awareness across the military services, particularly in the past year, highlighting the dangers of the drug. “It does still seem to be a problem,” he said. It’s also helping identify patients admitted to hospitals or brought into emergency rooms who have ingested bath salts. “A lot of times,” he said, “we get patients where it’s not really clear what is going on. That’s why it is so important the medical community is talking about that. We are all thinking: Could this be bath salts, or spice?”