Ban on "bath salts," synthetic marijuana delayed in Senate

House-passed legislation would add them to the list of controlled substances that have no medical use.

By Charles Fiegl amednews staff — Posted Jan. 9, 2012

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

House lawmakers in December 2011 approved legislation that would prohibit the sale of synthetic marijuana and other drugs known as "bath salts" and "plant food," which have been compared to dangerous hallucinogenic drugs when used illicitly. The measure, however, faces an indefinite delay in the Senate due to a lawmaker's hold on the bill.

Representatives on Dec. 8 voted 317-98 to ban the synthetic drugs, which can mimic the effects of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines. Sen. Charles Grassley (R, Iowa) has introduced similar legislation in the Senate, but the bill is being held up by an objection from Sen. Rand Paul, MD (R, Ky.), according to Grassley's office. Dr. Paul's office did not respond to repeated inquiries seeking comment on the legislative hold, which senators sometimes place on bills over matters unrelated to the legislation in question.

Organizations representing physicians and public health officials support the House-passed legislation because they say there is no known medicinal use for the substances. The number of patients seeking treatment in hospital emergency departments after using the synthetic drugs also has skyrocketed during the last year.

The American Assn. of Poison Control Centers reported 5,853 calls to poison centers that were related to bath salt exposure from January to November 2011, a dramatic increase from 303 such calls in 2010. Centers reported that they received 6,348 calls related to synthetic marijuana in 2011.

Responding to concerns about the abuse of these products, the American Medical Association in June adopted a policy to support a national ban.

"These chemicals, when inhaled or injected, cause effects similar to those caused by cocaine and methamphetamine, including paranoia, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts, which have led to self-mutilation, violent behavior and several deaths," wrote AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, in a September letter to the House supporting legislation banning bath salts.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R, Pa.), the House bill's sponsor, said he first learned about the dangers of the synthetic drug from his constituents. One man had injected himself with bath salts, suffered liver failure and was hospitalized for more than two weeks. In May, another man abusing bath salts fired a gun out his window and later told police he thought he was being watched by people on the roof.

"A man in Scranton, Pa., stabbed a priest, and another jumped out a three-story window, both high on bath salts," Dent said. "Several deaths from West Virginia to Florida to Pennsylvania to Iowa have been attributed to abuse of synthetic drugs."

Substances are marketed as bath salts or plant food with familiar-sounding brand names, such as K2, Spice and Vanilla Sky, he said. More than 30 states have responded by enacting laws banning the synthetic drugs.

Several members of Congress opposed the legislation as it was written because of its potential chilling effect on scientific research. If the bill is passed, the synthetic drugs will be placed on a list of controlled substances, for which researchers need a license to obtain samples for studies.

"These drugs need to be controlled, but they need to be controlled in such a way that there is no harm done to the vital scientific and medical research that we count on," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D, Calif.).

Back to top


"Bath salts" could be in same drug class as heroin

The Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011 would add several cannabimimetic agents and other drugs, known as "bath salts," to schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act. That statute, enacted in the 1970s, regulates drugs using five schedules:

  • Schedule I, which includes heroin. These drugs have no accepted medical use in the U.S.
  • Schedule II, which includes morphine.
  • Schedule III, which includes products with no more than 15mg of hydrocodone or 90mg of codeine per dose.
  • Schedule IV, which includes Xanax and Valium.
  • Schedule V, which includes some cough medicines.

Source: Dept. of Justice Office and Drug Enforcement Administration Office of Diversion Control (link)

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn