How bad can a drug, that was legal just months ago, actually be? It's a question several users of 'bath salts' have struggled with. But in just about a year, the drug has already been named as the cause of two local deaths and sent dozens to the emergency room.
Doctors call it a cocktail of the worst ingredients.
"Take the worst case scenario of stimulants, whether it be cocaine or meth, add to it hallucinate properties of LSD, Ecstasy, add to it the PCP effects of agitation, aggression, combativeness; put all those together and that's what bath salts, or White Rush, is about. It's the worst of all those things put together," said Dr. John Lehtinen, specializing in addiction medicine.
The packages containing the drugs labeled under the guise of bath salts were previously sold legally on the shelves of local head shops. They're actually a combination of chemical stimulants, leading to violent, dangerous and even deadly side effects for users.
"I'd hallucinate quite a bit; I'd think the police are outside my door, hear voices outside your windows," said a user who wished to remain anonymous. "I'd stay up for days and days on end."
Bath salts and similar chemical drugs, known on the street as Speed Freak, Hookah Cleaner or Vanilla Sky, are what doctors and law enforcement officials call a 'synthetic designer drug,' manufactured by garage or basement chemists, packaged and sealed for sale.
Physically, they've sent dozens to the ER for chest pain and a racing heart, but it's the psychological effects that are truly chilling. Vivid hallucinations and delusions that don't stop even well after the high has faded.
"I saw an individual who used a year ago, he continues to have hallucinations about different things he experienced a year ago that continue to creep back into his life. He knows it doesn't make sense, but that's how much his brain has been affected," Dr. Lehtinen said.
Even if users want to stop, it won't be easy. Bath salts are said to be more addictive than Meth, even after just one use.
"Every half an hour, I'd put something in my body, and I've been up for as long as six days," the user said. "The addiction of the drug is so powerful, it overrides your ability to stop."
The worst side effect of using? Sudden death.
"Brain chemistry changes to the extent that the part that controls respirations and being awake goes to sleep, and unfortunately goes to sleep permanently," Lehtinen said.
Health professionals say it's still too early to predict the long-term health effects of bath salts. In part three of our series, we'll bring you the stories of users who have been able to overcome the addiction, after losing it all.