Drug War

Spin Discovers a Drug 'Worth Freaking Out About'


"After decades of misguided hysteria," says Spin magazine, "the War on Drugs may have an epidemic worth freaking out about, and it's spreading across state and demographic lines at the speed of the Internet." In other words, all those other drug scares were bullshit, but this time you really should panic! As you may have guessed, the subject of this shamelessly sensational story, which purports to take us "DEEP IN THE HEART OF AMERICA'S NEW DRUG NIGHTMARE," is "a relatively obscure but insidiously metastasizing illegal substance marketed under the name 'bath salts.'"

Actually, as the author, freelancer Natasha Vargas-Cooper, later clarifies, it's a bunch of different stimulants, tweaked to stay ahead of state and federal bans, so that "you have no idea what you're putting in your body," as a DEA lab director tells her. Vargas-Cooper nevertheless portrays this gray market of mysterious, ever-shifting drugs sold "not for human consumption" (to avoid trouble with the FDA) as "an exercise in decriminalization." She emphasizes that people are attracted to "bath salts" largely because their quasi-legal status makes them easier to obtain than more familiar drugs and because they are not detected by standard drug tests. Yet she does not pause to consider the role of prohibition in pushing people toward untested, potentially more dangerous alternatives to banned intoxicants.

That is probably because Vargas-Cooper is so focused on telling us that "bath salts," no matter which specific chemicals they contain, are scarier than the scariest drug that yellow journalists like her have ever warned us about. "The last four decades have seen plenty of whipped-up hysteria about various fad intoxicants of the moment," she concedes. "But the fear generated by bath salts seems well earned." Why? Because even Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, is worried, telling Vargas-Cooper "bath salts" are "the worst drug" he has seen in his two decades there. "With LSD," he says, "you might see pink elephants, but with this drug, you see demons, aliens, extreme paranoia, heart attacks, and superhuman strength like Superman. If you had a reaction, it was a bad reaction." Ryan is the famously level-headed expert who last year told The New York Times that "bath salts" combine "the worst attributes of meth, coke, PCP, LSD and ecstasy." Vargas-Cooper likewise describes "bath salts" as "a lab-brewed drug that unpredictably mimics a freakish combination of coke, meth, and Ecstasy"—in other words, "the stuff of a D.A.R.E. officer's most florid nightmare." 

You might wonder whether Ryan, whose job focuses exclusively on negative drug reactions, is the best authority to consult for a balanced view of an intoxicant's risks and benefits. You might also wonder how a drug that offers nothing but bad trips got to be so alarmingly popular. You might wonder those things, but Vargas-Cooper does not. Instead she reinforces Ryan's skewed perspective with dubious anecdotes. She cites "a 19-year-old West Virginia man" who "claimed he was high on bath salts when he stabbed his neighbor's pygmy goat while wearing women's underwear." From which readers should conclude what? That "bath salts" (again, regardless of which specific substances they contain) make men don women's underwear and stab goats? Vargas-Cooper undermines that warning by describing her encounter with a couple of heroin junkies who shoot up "bath salts" in a Las Vegas hotel room while she watches. No goats are harmed. (Intriguingly, the synthetic marijuana known as spice has been linked to capricide as well.)

Vargas-Cooper also mentions "a Mississippi man" who "skinned himself alive while under the influence." It's a good thing she specifies that he skinned himself alive; otherwise readers might imagine that he rose from the dead to do it. Speaking of zombies, here is my favorite part of the article:

Perhaps the most infamous incident tied to bath salts is Rudy Eugene's horrific naked face-eating attack in Miami in May, although conclusive toxicology reports have yet to be released; still, the fact that this feels like the closest thing to a credible explanation for chewing a homeless man's head for 18 minutes speaks volumes about the drug's reputation.

So far Rudy Eugene's gruesome assault on Ronald Poppo is "tied to bath salts" only because reckless reporters like Vargas-Cooper say it is. There is no physical evidence of any kind to back up that claim, and as far as we know no one has ever gnawed off a homeless man's face under the influence of "bath salts." To Vargas-Cooper, however, "this feels like the closest thing to a credible explanation," which "speaks volumes about the drug's reputation." What a wonderfully circular justification for anti-drug scaremongering: We don't know what this drug does, but people seem to believe us when we say it causes outbursts of vicious, irrational violence, so there must be some truth to it.

Previous coverage of "bath salts" here.

[Thanks to Mark Sletten for the tip.]

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  1. he was high on bath salts when he stabbed his neighbor’s pygmy goat while wearing women’s underwear

    …and how my neighbor’s pygmy goat got into women’s underwear, I’ll never know

    1. wakka wakka wakka

    2. For a more positive view on women’s underwear I give you Bar Rafaeli

      1. Girdles aren’t just for your grandmother. Bar Rafaeli could make a potato sack look sexy.

  2. What are the odds that the current hysteria about bath salts has done wonders for their sales?

    1. *raises hand* All the chatter has made me curious I’m the lamest person ever who hardly drinks.

    2. What do you mean? You think people WANT “superhuman strength like Superman”?

  3. In other words, we get our very own reefer madness style panic to tell our kids about.

    Between this, the recession, the twisting of language, government trampling of liberty, etc. I think we’re getting a taste of what it was like to live in the 30s.

    What a strangely retro thing we’re all experiencing.

    1. I’d hate to see our version of the ’40s then…

  4. …a lab-brewed drug that unpredictably mimics a freakish combination of coke, meth, and Ecstasy

    For real? Anyone know where I can get something like that?

    1. It pretty much just mimics PCP and meth. At least the only one that I will ever try. Not fun.

  5. The phrase

    “this feels like the closest thing to a credible explanation,”

    speaks volumes about the “journalist’s” credibility.
    Really, Spin? Really? That is fucking weak. That is not even trying.

    1. After we shoot the lawyers, can the yellow journalists be next in line?

  6. The “guy stoned on bath salts eating someone’s face” is going to become the “person who jumped off a building because they thought the could fly while on LSD” legend of our time.

    1. Stared at the sun until they went blind.

      No one could ever find those blind trippers. Didn’t Art Linkletter claim his daughter jumped on LSD?

        1. Francis Crick first realized how DNA was formed on LSD.

          Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun.

      1. Ate Poprock with Coca Cola and ‘sploded.

  7. The biggest shock of this story is that Spin still exists.

    1. I used to like Byron Coley’s one sentence record reviews.

  8. I once burned a goat wearing a thong (me, not the goat) on steps of a local church. Cops say I was chanting “Cthulu for Prez – Vote for the Lesser Evil!” when they arrived. I’d been mainlining Skittles and corn beer all weekend before that.

    The Skittles are the closest thing to a credible explanation of my behavior that I’ve been able to come up with. Since then, I’ve been a straight corn beer man and the goats have stoppped running in fear. I like goats.

    Though I still break out the banana hammock every now and then.

  9. The New York Times that “bath salts” combine “the worst attributes of meth, coke, PCP, LSD and ecstasy.”

    This is such total bullshit I don’t even know where to begin. The vast majority of chemicals found in bath salts are Norepinephrine and Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors (NDRI) like MDPV and a-PVP. I’ve done a couple of those chemicals in their pure form, and they feel very similar to the Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Adderall) that i’ve been perscribed at various times since 9th grade. Ecstacy (MDMA) is primarily a seretonin releasing agent. PCP is an NMDA receptor antagonist, and a dopamine reuptake inhibitor. LSD is a seretonin receptor agonist. So pharmacaologicaly “Bath Salts” are just shitty coke/meth substitutes that do pretty much the same thing as the ADD meds every other fucking 12 year old in this country takes on the daily.

    1. …plus a hint of cinnamon

    2. Thank you for the details. Now, does anyone know what they are like to bathe with? Does anyone actually do that?

      1. About as many people that bathe using meth.

        1. Sounds like a good idea for an alt-weekly feature. What is it like to actually bathe in bath salts?

    3. They use “Ecstasy” because it still sounds scary to the people who read “Spin.”

  10. I swear bath salts have been around for alot longer than this current hysteria. How is it only now that they are the scourge of the world?

    At what point are we going to have the “Tide with lemon” panic?

    1. Because the Times and the rest of the MSM are running out of stories to illustrate how awesome Obama is. So they’ll gin this up until maybe September, at which point Obama will heroically solve the crisis via executive order.

  11. I’m old enough to remember the Crack scare of the 80’s, this is very similar.

  12. MENDOZA: My friends, tonight we unveil my most diabolical creation: Swank. Ten times more addictive than marijuana.

    GUESTS: Ooh!

    (raising a glass to toast)
    MENDOZA: To human misery!

    1. Hilary leaves such a bad aftertaste…

  13. Bath salts don’t make people eat faces. You have to have already been severly fucked in the head to consider cannibalizing another person.

    1. I’m still on the “massive frontal lobe tumor” bandwagon.

      or maybe he had one too many sessions with Hannibal Lector.

      Funny thing is, his girlfriend blamed voodoo, which sounds as valid an explanation as any other given to date.

    2. While face-eating is not a direct side effect of bath salts, if you stay up for days binging on any stimulant you can experience full-blown psychosis complete with vivid hallucinations and paranoid delusions. But jumping to that conclusion before you get the toxicology report back from the lab is very unprofessional. But think about this: how often do people in the middle of a gnarly stimulant binge eat anything? Some batshit crazy tweaker isn’t gonna go through the trouble of running some dude down so he can eat his face. I bet the guy was either on PCP or just had a psychotic break. Dugrs may or may not have been involved.

      1. PCP needs a PR agent. Everybody dissin’ the dust.

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