Synthetic Speed Sold as "Bath Salts" Taking the Place of Synthetic Marijuana, a.k.a. Spice

Note: This blog has been updated with information from the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center since it was first published.

Most local head shops have stopped selling herbal incense blends known as "spice" since the recent DEA ban, but now they're selling out of a potentially even more dangerous designer drug: a synthetic speed sold as "bath salts," marketed under names like Ivory Coast, Ivory Soft, Cloud 9, and White Lightning.

Spice (a.k.a. synthetic marijuana) was sold strictly as "herbal incense" and labeled "not for human consumption," but people smoked it to get high. These "bath salts" also contain a disclaimer that they're not for consumption and are sold only as a "novelty," but people are reportedly smoking, snorting, and even injecting them for their reputed effects.

And most local head shops are sold out of them.

Aside from Trails, most Valley head shops carry these "bath salts." But employees at several local smoke shops, including It's All Goodz and Nana's Smoke Shop, say they're currently sold out. They say their stock of bath salts flew off shelves after the recent spice ban, and they also report an increase in sales of the legal hallucinogen Salvia.

We stopped at six Valley head shops and called four others looking for the bath salts. Only one -- DJ's Smoke Shop in Mesa -- had any left on the shelves. We asked them to hold a bag for us, and when we got there, the clerk told us five minutes after we'd called, a man came in and bought all the rest of the bath salts they had -- seven 250 mg bags, totaling almost $240. The bag we bought cost $29.95. When the clerk handed it to us, she gave us a serious look and said, "Be very careful with this."

The chemicals in bath salts like Ivory Coast and Cloud 9 are called mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). There has been no formal research into the effects of these synthetic compounds on humans, but it's been suggested they are more potent than cocaine and Ritalin. The high reportedly lasts anywhere from four to five hours, and is allegedly similar to a high from crystal meth or cocaine.

At least 84 people have reportedly been hospitalized in Louisiana after ingesting bath salts. Mark Ryan, head of Louisiana Poison Control Centers, told the Associated Press that poison centers around the country have received 160 calls about mephedrone and MDPV. Poison control centers in Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah have all received calls within the past week about the substances, which have reported ill side effects including paranoia, hallucinations, insomnia, vomiting, cold sweats, and cravings for more.

Sounds like a bad trip to us. Alvin C. Bronstein, acting director of toxicosurveillance for the American Association of Poison Control Centers, said in a news release that bath salts containing mephedrone and MDPV are "an emerging health threat that needs to be taken seriously."

The Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center in Phoenix reports receiving two calls related to local cases -- one in September involving bath salts, and a call in December for mephedrone abuse.

At least two deaths in Sweden and two fatalities in the U.K. have been linked with mephadrone. In the U.S., ingestion of bath salts have been suspected in deaths in Kansas and Missouri.

Mephedrone is illegal in several locations, including Israel, the U.K., and all of Europe. It is not federally controlled in the United States, but has been banned in North Dakota. MDPV is illegal in the U.K., Finland, Denmark, and Sweden. It is still legal in the United States.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea