Besides its illegal nature, those wanting to roll on ecstasy now have another reason to reconsider; a recent study by NYU Langone found traces of bath salts in more than 40 percent of MDMA users who reported never taking them.
Langone Assistant Professor and Faculty Affiliate for NYU’s Center for Drug Use and HIV research, Dr. Joseph Palamar, conducted one of the first formal experiments to test the adulteration of MDMA products.
Between July and September 2015, Palamar’s team surveyed club and festival-goers in New York ages 18 to 25, asking if they had ever taken MDMA or Novel Psychoactive Substances — known as bath salts. The team collected hair samples from a quarter of these subjects to be analyzed by Italian researchers at the University of Turin.
The results found that 4 in 10 people who claimed to have taken MDMA, but never bath salts, had NPS in their system. Most NPS drugs like bath salts are stimulants with similar effects to ecstasy. However, the drug can have serious side effects including rapid heart rate, high blood pressure and hallucinations. In addition, bath salts have been reported to cause intense panic attacks and psychosis.
“Contrary to public opinion, you don’t turn into a zombie or face-eating cannibal if you use bath salts, although this doesn’t mean they’re healthy,” Palamar said in an email. “Because these drugs have become prevalent so recently, users and researchers know little about them.”
A Stern sophomore who has taken MDMA four different times at music festivals said although he uses a device to test the purity of the MDMA he takes, the results of the study came as a surprise. In the future, he plans to be more vigilant about where his molly comes from.
“Personally, this does change a lot of things, because the last thing I need is bath salts being detected in my system,” he said. “Knowing that bath salts are in it makes it a much more dangerous game.”
And according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NPS are just some of many adulterating substances found in MDMA. Much of the molly confiscated by police officers contains other additives such as cocaine, methamphetamine and over-the-counter cough syrup.
“Hundreds of new street drugs have been discovered in the last few years — over 100 in 2014,” Palamar said. “It seems that every time a new drug is banned, a new almost-identical drug pops up to take its place very quickly. Some of these new chemicals pop up in molly, too, and test kits can’t detect all of these new drugs”
Palamar said ecstasy-related poisonings have increased and there have been many deaths at dance festivals, such as Electric Zoo, as the drug is popular among the EDM scene. For instance, a person died at the Electric Zoo Festival in 2013 with bath salts detected in his system, which was likely taken unknowingly in his MDMA.
“I really care about this young generation and this is why I research what I research,” Palamar said. “My students are also this age and I worry all the time that one day someone is going to make a bad or uninformed decision and get harmed. If a teen or young adult insists on using molly, or any other drug, I urge them to learn how to be safe about it.”
Email Kyle Sturmann at [email protected]