Remember Rudy Eugene, the "Miami Cannibal" who made sensational headlines in 2012 after gnawing the face off a homeless man? Everyone blamed the designer drug known as "bath salts" for Eugene's flesh-crazed madness. But new evidence shows that the drug probably couldn't cause actual cannibalism.
Image via dea.gov
In fact, after Eugene was shot by cops and died, toxicology reports actually found no evidence of the highly addictive substance known as "bath salts" in his system.
What's more, recent work presented at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting shows that these "bath salts" probably would not have caused his cannibalistic urges in the first place. But before you start planning your next bath-salt block party, know that the current version of the ever-evolving drug does have some pretty nasty effects on the body.
A bath-salt high comes down to a neurotransmitter chemical called dopamine. Under normal conditions, nerve cells release dopamine when we eat a piece of cake or have sex, giving us feelings of pleasure and reward in the brain. The feeling fades, as the nerve cell reuptakes dopamine. Messing with this process can drive addiction. Cathinones called mephedrone and methylone function like ecstasy, which makes nerve cells release more dopamine. At the same time, another bath salts ingredient called methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) acts like cocaine and blocks the reuptake of dopamine and the neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, leaving them to freely circulate in the space between nerve cells. By itself, MDPV is about 10 times more potent than cocaine.
Whoa there. Ten times more potent than cocaine?
When the two types of cathinones act on nerve cells in synergy, users end up with a lot of dopamine in the space between cells. The excess dopamine starts a cascade of reward signals, while excess norepinephrine probably speeds up the heart rate. Users get a sense of altered consciousness and high energy, escalating to delirium and agitation after high doses or chronic use. The drugs have been linked to some utterly bizarre behavior, from demon baby paranoia to half-naked goat killings. Some users experience hyperthermia, cardiovascular problems and even death.
MDPV can also plug dopamine reuptake for a while, which is why users can still feel effects the next day. A separate study presented at this week's meeting found that MDPV's lingering impact messes with the brain's connectivity networks, based on brain scans of mice dosed with the drug. If some parts of the brain can't talk to other regions, that could account for some of the weirder stories linked to bath salt use.
So you're probably in the clear for cannibalism (looks like we'll never know why Eugene decided he needed to eat a face that day), but half-naked goat killings are a distinct possibility. You've been warned, kids!