Investigating the “Bath Salt” Panic: The rarity of Synthetic Cathinone Use among Students

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Introduction and Aims Until recently, synthetic cathinones marketed as ‘bath salts’ were legally sold at convenience stores and online in the USA. Media reports initiated concerns of a growing ‘bath salt’ epidemic. Despite media attention and the recent legal action banning synthetic cathinones, little is known about its prevalence or users. Design and Methods A self-report survey was administered to 2349 students in 40 randomly selected courses at a large university in the Southeastern United States. The resulting sample was 51.6% female, 68.9% white, 24.4% black, 2.8% Hispanic and 4.0% other races, with a mean age of 20.06 years and median family income of $75 000–99 999. Results Only 25 (1.07%) of the students reported using synthetic cathinones at least once. Synthetic cathinone use was found to be more common among men (1.68% vs. 0.50% of women, P = 0.005), Hispanics (4.7%) and Native Americans (4.3% vs. 0.89% of whites and 0.72% of blacks, P = 0.002), and student athletes (4.0% vs. 0.90% of non-athletes, P = 0.001), but in each of these groups, synthetic cathinones were used more rarely than marijuana (58.14%, P < 0.001), cocaine (9.08%, P < 0.001), Salvia divinorum (7.89%, P < 0.001), synthetic cannabinoids (14.28%, P < 0.001), methamphetamines (1.92%, P = 0.002), 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA) (12.54%, P < 0.001) and several other drugs and pharmaceuticals. Discussion and Conclusions ‘Bath salts’ have received a great deal of media attention in the USA, yet the prevalence of synthetic cathinone use among our sample was extremely rare. We suggest that the media attention focusing on synthetic cathinone use as a growing epidemic may be largely misplaced.