Study Finds Many New York Clubgoers Are Unknowingly Using Bath Salts Instead of MDMA

A NYU study found that a significant amount users of the club drug don't realize they're taking bath salts.

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Feb 24 2016, 9:10pm

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Four out of ten people are unwittingly taking bath salts and other legal highs thinking they're just taking MDMA, according to a study published last week by New York University.

The study, published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, examined the unintended use of bath salts, and other novel psychoactive substances (NPS), also known as legal highs, among "nightclub/festival-attending young adults" between the ages of 18-25 in New York City. Among participants who said they were frequent Molly users, but had never bath salts, it turned out that many of them had in fact taken bath salts without their knowing.

The study's author, assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, Joseph J. Palamar, told THUMP: "The most concerning thing is that a lot of these people are unintentionally or unknowingly using these new synthetic drugs." He added: "MDMA is not the most dangerous drug—I'm not saying it isn't dangerous, but generally it's not that bad if it's used in a somewhat safe manner. But bath salts, we don't know about."

Palamar and his team of researchers surveyed people outside of clubs and festivals in the summer of 2015 about their drug use. The survey assessed whether participants had ever knowingly used ecstasy, MDMA or Molly. Participants were also asked whether they had ever knowingly used any of a list of 35 bath salts or other legal highs. The researchers then cut a lock of hair from about a quarter of those surveyed to test for traces of bath salts.

Of the 48 participants who provided the researchers with an analyzable hair sample, 41.2 percent tested positive for the bath salts methylone and alpha-PVP (aka Flakka), or the novel psychoactive substances butylone, 5/6-APB, or 4-FA. The study found that racial minorities were more likely to test positive for butylone or NPS after reporting no lifetime use. The strongest predictor of testing positive MDMA, butylone, or methylone unsurprisingly turned out to be "Frequent nightclub/festival attendance."

Palamar added: "Bath salts are reasonably new synthetic stimulants that users don't know a lot about, and researchers don't know a lot about. If you're using a drug that was discovered a year ago and you don't even know you're using it or how much, or what you're mixing it with, that could be really dangerous."

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