Bath Salts Test Positive For Ecstasy-Like Drug

7NEWS Finds Drug Similar To Ecstasy In Substance Available At Local Head Shops

Bath salts purchased at metro area head shops by 7NEWS have tested positive for a substance similar to the illegal drug ecstasy.

7NEWS bought three packages of bath salts and had them tested at a University of Colorado chemistry lab. The results revealed all three substances to be methylenedioxypyrovalerone or MDPV. According to chemistry professor Dr. Tarek Sammakia, MDPV has a similar molecular makeup as ecstasy and methamphetamine.

"Should I have been able to buy that?" asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"No, absolutely not. There's absolutely no reason. This should not be sold in the streets, I'm sorry. There's no legitimate purpose to buying this compound except to get high," said Sammakia.

To test our samples, Sammakia and graduate student Jeff Gazaille took small amounts of each package. Using just one or two milligrams, the substance was dissolved in a solvent, placed in a small tube and analyzed by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The NMR is a high-tech machine that helps determine the molecular structure of a compound. It produces results that look like the wavy lines on a seismograph, which represent the molecules and how they relate to each other to form the compound.

The substances purchased by 7NEWS are called Cloud 9, Bliss and Tranquility. The ingredients are listed on the back of the Cloud 9 package: "A proprietary blend of concentrated water softening agents, Epsom salts, sodium chloride, amino acid blends and naturally occurring trace elements and minerals."

"The ingredients on the back say nothing about having a compound that's related to a controlled substance," said Sammakia. "If this was Epsom salt, you would have seen absolutely no peaks (on the NMR) at all."

Clerks At Head Shops Hinted At Snorting Bath Salts

Two of the packages refer to a "scentual" experience. Two of the clerks who sold 7NEWS the bath salts hinted at snorting the powder.

"People tell me that it's incense, that you need to smell real close," said one clerk.

At another head shop, the clerk started off discrete and then removed any doubt.

"Are they incense or are they bath salts? What are they?" asked Zelinger.

"Ah, they're bath salts. They're not an incense. More, something you smell," said the clerk. "That's all about I can say, if you catch my drift. It's all powder."

"What else can you do with it?" asked Zelinger.

"Smell it real close," said the clerk.

"OK, I gotcha," said Zelinger.

"With a straw," said the clerk.

"Is it legal?" asked Zelinger.

"Ah, yeah," said the clerk.

"Is this a substance that only chemists should be able to purchase or obtain?" asked Zelinger.

"Absolutely. There's no legitimate reason for a layperson to have that molecule in their cupboard or in their Epsom salts or their bath salts. There's no legitimate purpose for this compound," said Sammakia.

Molecular Makeup Of Bath Salts Similar To Illegal Drugs

The molecular makeup of MDPV is very similar to an amphetamine compound that is deemed illegal by the Drug Enforcement Administration. MDPV closely resembles the controlled substance, Methcathinone, but has an extra oxygen, which makes the compound chemically different.

"It's in a class of molecules that is very similar to another class of molecules that is classified as a controlled substance by the DEA," said Sammakia. "The DEA in my opinion should definitely make this class of compounds, not this specific compound but the entire class, controlled substances, no question in my mind."

"Is it obvious, if we took this to the DEA, that something needs to be done about this?" asked Zelinger.

"If you take this to the DEA, I think they would instantly see the similarity between this molecule, which is not controlled, and all of these which are controlled. I think a lawmaker would be able to figure that out," said Sammakia.

DEA Responds Why It's Not A Controlled Substance

"Do people need to get sick or do people need to die before the DEA can make this a controlled substance?" asked Zelinger.

"Not necessarily. Certainly, we're trying to make the best decisions we can make with the science and the knowledge that we have," said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.

7NEWS shared the CU lab results with the DEA in Washington D.C.

"Is it concerning to the DEA that this substance that we found in our bath salts is available to anybody who wants to buy it, and it's so similar to things that are already illegal?" asked Zelinger.

"Absolutely. And there actually are laws in place that prevent that from happening," said Payne.

He was referring to the Federal Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act, which allows the DEA to take action against providers of substances similar to those already deemed illegal.

7NEWS asked if any action would be taken against the head shops where the bath salts were purchased.

"Potentially. Potentially," said Payne.

Ingesting These Bath Salts Is Like Playing Russian Roulette

Payne said those who ingest bath salts into their bodies are playing Russian roulette. He described symptoms that include: rapid heart rate, chest pains, nosebleeds, sweating, nausea and vomiting. He also explained psychological symptoms that include: agitation, insomnia, dizziness, irritability, depression, paranoia, delusions, suicidal thoughts, seizures and panic attacks.

"If we deem it as an immediate health threat we can act, but we have to have the science and the research necessary to make that conclusion," said Payne.

The DEA told 7NEWS it has been investigating bath salts, MDPV and another similar compound called, Mephedrone, for a year-and-a-half. Before it can make a case to add a compound to the controlled substance list, the DEA needs to study abuse data, availability of the substance and its harm to the user.

"There's no field test for this stuff. This requires a really significant lab analysis," said Payne.

"How many results does it take before you can do something?" asked Zelinger.

Chemicals In Spice, K2 Already Banned

"I don't know the answer to that, but it needs to be significant," said Payne. "We've been able to make that conclusion with the five chemicals in Spice and K2. We have not been able to definitively make that case yet for the Mephedrone or the MDPV."

7NEWS highlighted Spice and K2 last year. It could also be bought in head shops and convenience stores. When K2 is smoked it provides effects like marijuana. The DEA just banned the sale of K2 last month. It also took a couple years of research and testing before the DEA considered K2 illegal.

"A very long process in many cases, to determine whether or not these things should be controlled under the controlled substances act," said Payne. "Congress could pass legislation anytime they want that changes the law."

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, introduced a bill in Congress last month called, "Combating Dangerous Synthetic Stimulants Act of 2011." The legislation would add MDPV and Mephedrone to the controlled substance list upon signature of the president.

7NEWS contacted Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado about the Schumer legislation.

“I appreciate Channel 7 bringing this to our attention. I’m closely reviewing the bill and will talk to the chairman of the committee about holding a hearing. Meth and drugs like it have devastated families and communities, and I'll continue to partner with local law enforcement across the state to fight illegal trafficking and abuse," said Udall.

“Preventing dangerous and highly-addictive substances from falling into the hands of would-be abusers is a goal we can all get behind. While investigations into these substances are ongoing and should be completed without delay, I am also taking a hard look at Sen. Schumer’s bill and plan to talk with Judiciary Committee Chairman (Patrick) Leahy, D-Vermont, about a potential path forward. Reducing demand for illegal use of these substances should also figure into our efforts, and I have championed programs like the Colorado Meth Project to raise awareness surrounding the dangers of drug abuse.”

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