Do Bath Salts Cause ‘Zombie' Behavior?

"Spice" can cause hallucinations, rapid heartbeat

After multiple human-on-human attacks in the last couple months, including a gruesome incident where a man chewed another man’s face off, experts believe bath salts could be to blame.

The synthetic drug, often called spice or bath salts, has been linked to behavior behind multiple attacks that some have labeled “zombie apocalypse.”

Bath salts can have a variety of implications on people, including increased body temperature, anger, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, hallucinations, extreme paranoia and suicidal thoughts.

Could that explain the behavior behind recent attacks?

Using these types of drugs, in addition to sleep deprivation, could cause users to behave irrationally speculated Dr. Richard Clark, the director of medical toxicology at UCSD Hospital.

“Our experience is they tend to get much more violent and agitated and get destructive in their behavior compared with regular methamphetamine,” he said. “But I can’t tell you it causes cannibalism.”

What can happen, though, is an intensified reaction because of intolerance.

Should a person take bath salts repeatedly, and increase their dosage, the brain could have a different reaction because it is not used augmented levels of the drug.

Not every organ in your body becomes tolerant in the same way to these kinds of products, said Clark. While one part of the body could have built up a tolerance, another part could have a completely different reaction. The brain may develop a tolerance, but with more amounts of the drugs your body might react differently.

Since bath salts are technically a stimulant, people tend to have a hard time sleeping after ingesting them.  Binges of spice could lead to lack of sleep, and that in combination with the drug could have disturbing effects.

Clark said there haven’t been any studies with the body’s reaction to bath salts specifically, but he does know that it is difficult to wane people off the drug.

When subjects come to the hospital and are known to be high on spice, doctors are forced to sedate them.

“You have to restrain them,” he said. “They get handcuffed….then we will give them a number of different medicines to calm them down, there’s no way to reverse it. It can take a while since the body has to metabolize the drugs.”

Selling bath salts in California became illegal last October and sales are considered a misdemeanor. San Diego hospitals received more than 100 cases of bath salt overdose, but believe many cases went unreported and continue to see multiple cases each week.

Despite the drug potentially causing frightening behavior – it’s virtually undetectable. In urine tests, spice will not show up. The drug is also relatively inexpensive when compared to illegal drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine.

So while a “zombie apocalypse” might not be a reality, the dangers of bath salts are.

Follow NBCSanDiego for the latest news, weather, and events: iPad App | iPhone App | Android App | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Instagram | RSS | Text Alerts | Email Alerts

Contact Us