July 24, 2012
Bath Salts Compared To Cocaine In New Study
Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
The phrase “bath salts” normally evokes an image of a soothing bubble bath. However, recently it has had a double meaning and applies to a type of synthetic stimulants that have become more popular with recreational drug users over the past five years. Much of the popularity is due to the available supply as well as lack of restrictions and regulations in purchasing through the Internet and local convenience stores.
Recently, studies have looked at deaths due to the bath salts, which they say could have been related to the ingredient mephedrone. As such, many countries have started to ban the possession, production, and sale of the mephedrone along with other cathinone derivative drugs. In particular, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) listed mephedrone on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act in October 2011. It will stay on the list for one year or until further research proves otherwise.
“Basically, the DEA was saying we don't know enough about these drugs to know how potentially dangerous they could be, so we're going to make them maximally restricted, gather more data, and then come to a more reasoned decision as to how we should classify these compounds," noted Dr. C.J. Malanga, an associate professor of neurology, pediatrics and psychology at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine, in a prepared statement.
Malanga and fellow researchers conducted a study that emphasized how mephedrone, similar to cocaine, can possibly be utilized and become an addictive substance for the user.
"The effects of mephedrone on the brain's reward circuits are comparable to similar doses of cocaine," commented Malanga, a member of the UNC's Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, in the statement. "As expected our research shows that mephedrone likely has significant abuse liability."
The journal of Behavioural Brain Research recently published the article by Malanga and fellow researchers with authors like J. Elliott Robinson, a UNC MD/PHD student, describing mephedrone and other possible addictive stimulants as “inappropriately activate brain reward circuits that are involved in positive reinforcement. These play a role in the drug 'high' and compulsive drug taking."
In the study, mice were implanted with brain stimulating electrodes and scientists measured the efforts they made in spinning a wheel before, during, and after receiving a variety of doses of mephedrone or cocaine.
"One of the unique features of ICSS [intracranial self-stimulation] is that all drugs of abuse, regardless of how they work pharmacologically, do very similar things to ICSS: they make ICSS more rewarding," Malanga remarked in the statement. "Animals work harder to get less of it [ICSS] when we give them these drugs."
In particular, cocaine showed that it had the power to increase the ability of mice to perform a specific behavioral task through self-stimulation.
"And what we found, which is new, is that mephedrone does the same thing. It increases the rewarding potency of ICSS just like cocaine does," wrote the researchers in the statement.
Overall, the study demonstrates how mephedrone and other drugs can become addictive and, on July 9, President Obama signed a law that would permanently prohibit the sale of bath salts in the U.S.