Sean Morrow
June 29, 2012 9:30 am

Panicked media response to “fad drugs” is an American tradition. Everyone is familiar with the scary nightly news lead-ins following prime-time TV shows, those black-and-white montages of teens doing the illicit flavor of the week, tempting you to watch the report. Most of them are total bull. Remember the whole “vodka in the eyeball” epidemic? Do you actually know anyone that did that? Nope. Because it’s really stupid.

In the late ’90s and early 2000s, there was that “super skunkweed” hullabaloo, which was the media’s way of scaring baby boomer parents into thinking weed is more dangerous now than it was when they indulged. Again, an overreaction. The worst thing that’ll happen from even “super-duper weed” is maybe an emergency nap. Sure, pot is a little more powerful now, but so are computers. It’s called progress.

By far the funniest “drug epidemic” is jenkem, which involves more bodily fluids than I can stomach writing about right now. Wikipedia it. I assure you, anyone who knows what jenkem is would not have any interest in putting it near their mouth.

The hilariously panicked anti-pot film Reefer Madness sensationalized the “dangers of marijuana,” with promises of weed-induced “manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, and descent into madness.” It came out in 1936. So, we’ve been at this for awhile, the media has always created panic over non-existent drug epidemics. They’ve become a joke.

But then some faces got eaten. Paintings were peed on. Shovels were swung. Canadians got confused. Evil was felt. “Zombie apocalypse” started getting thrown around.

Bath salts were the new cool thing to be alarmed about. They’d entered the media radar.

But they’d been on my radar for a while. One of my cousins – only a few years younger than me, but young enough that I watched him grow up – entered the bath salts fray a few months before the designer drug was a focus of national attention. But this isn’t a personal essay. This post is not about my feelings regarding someone I love having a drug problem. This story is illustrative. My cousin (E) was a good kid. He is now, too, but he wasn’t for a little while. I don’t live that close to him, but there were phone calls from his mother about violence, issues with the police, blackouts, massive personality changes, self-harm and theft. I had always heard about people that “changed completely,” but I’d never seen it first hand. E had become a different person.

E’s mother jumped into action. She started an all-out crusade against bath salts; she reported convenience stores for stocking them (more on the fuzzy legality of the stuff later), and wrote letters to the DEA and her representatives. She contacted the local media and got noticed. She made a real impact. Letters to the editor led to an entire feature in the local paper. Changes in legislation were slowly made. And E ‘got better,’ slowly pulling his car back onto the road to recovery.

And that’s as far into the personal essay thing I’m gonna go. I watched bath salts try to destroy someone. And I don’t personify chemical compounds lightly.

Right now, bath salts are legal in some states and illegal in others. But here’s the thing: we’ll never be able to truly make bath salts illegal. As state governments ban certain chemical compounds, other chemical compounds with similar attributes start popping up. Bath salts elude the law by simply adding other chemicals to the mix, creating new “blends” that are legal due to slight modification. Something intended for human consumption and intoxication is being rapidly chemically altered to avoid illegality… probably not a great idea. Bath salts join lighters, cigarettes, erection pills and lottery tickets in the ranks of things legally sold behind the counters of gas stations. And even when particular compounds are made illegal, no police force has the resources to keep tabs on every convenience store, head shop, and gas station. And of course there’s the internet (ugh, it’s such a troublemaker, right?) where anyone can have bath salts delivered straight to their home.

Bath salts have kind of become a punchline in the past few weeks. They got grouped into the genre of comically overblown media fear-sensations and became associated with silly reports on superweed and poop-filled-water-bottles. They are not the same. Bath salts are brain damage in a bag, and anyone can easily buy them with their daily Slushie (everyone else has a daily Slushie, right?). That’s not cool, society!

I honestly don’t believe in telling people not to do drugs.  I don’t have the authority to tell anyone to not do anything. So this is not a condemnation nor is it a demand. This is a recommendation. Like how I’d recommend not watching Mean Girls 2, or not not eating Sriracha sauce. I simply want to put forth a recommendation: let’s not do bath salts, guys. Come on, it’ll be awesome!

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