'Intense Cravings' for a 'Horrible Trip' That Routinely Ends in Self-Mutilation, Suicide, and Murder


Last month I noted a credulous, overwrought story about quasi-legal speed substitutes in which A.P. reporter Janet McConnaughey linked the stimulants methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and mephedrone (a.k.a. 4-methylmethcathinone) to hallucinations, paranoid delusions, domestic violence, and suicide as well as "rapid heart beat" and "hypertension." But McConnaughey looks calm next to her A.P. colleague Sheila Byrd, whose recent story opens with a Mississippi man who "got high on dangerous chemicals sold as bath salts," then "took his skinning knife and slit his face and stomach repeatedly."

Is this sort of response common? Unsual? Rare? Unique? How does the percentage of MDPV or mephedrone users who injure themselves compare to the percentage of drinkers who do so? Byrd does not have time for such questions because she's in a hurry to regurgitate a series of scary anecdotes that carry equal logical weight:

Sheriff's authorities in one Mississippi county say they believe one woman overdosed on the powders there. In southern Louisiana, the family of a 21-year-old man says he cut his throat and ended his life with a gunshot. Authorities are investigating whether a man charged with capital murder in the December death of a Tippah County, Miss., sheriff's deputy was under the influence of the bath salts….

Dr. Richard Sanders, a general practitioner working in Covington, La., said his son, Dickie, snorted some of the chemicals and endured three days of intermittent delirium. Dickie Sanders missed major arteries when he cut his throat. As he continued to have visions, his physician father tried to calm him. But the elder Sanders said that as he slept, his son went into another room and shot himself.

If MDPV and mephedrone routinely cause self-mutilation, suicide, and murder, what's the attraction? "It causes intense cravings for it," the director of Louisiana's poison control center tells Byrd. "They'll binge on it three or four days before they show up in an ER. Even though it's a horrible trip, they want to do it again and again." According to drug warriors and their publicists in the press, substances such as heroin, crack, and methamphetamine are irresistible because their psychoactive effects are so enjoyable. Yet MDPV and mephedrone evidently have nothing to offer but "a horrible trip" that is inexplicably appealing enough to generate "intense cravings" and repeated use. If the experience of using these drugs is so uniformly unpleasant, why bother banning them (as everyone quoted by Byrd wants to do)?

Although Byrd, in the time-honored tradition of anti-drug propaganda disguised as journalism, leaps to causal conclusions and presents extreme cases as typical, that does not mean these drugs, which are not nearly as well studied as amphetamines and cocaine, pose no special hazards. But if they do, we can thank the drug laws for driving people to riskier replacements for illegal substances:

In northern Mississippi's Itawamba County, Sheriff Chris Dickinson said his office has handled about 30 encounters with users of the advertised bath salts in the past two months alone. He said the problem grew last year in his rural area after a Mississippi law began restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in making methamphetamine.