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Bath Salts: Bad for Health, Good for Business

Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky, White Rush- these are not discreet code names for coke or the next bad Nicholas Cage movie. They are brands of bath salts, the legal spazz that has been putting people in intensive care and business owners in a tough spot.

Making you act strikingly similar to Charlie Sheen, bath salts (when smoked or snorted) have been compared to synthetic meth. Users report bouts of sleeplessness, extreme paranoia and even hallucinations in some cases. The active chemical, MDPV, has been reported to be not only habit forming but give you a harsher comedown than a Layne Staley speedball.

That may be a little exaggerated, but this stuff is bad news (or at least appears bad in the news). Hospitals across the country have reported treating patients with accelerated heart rates who are both delusional and sometimes violent. Fingers have even been pointed to bath salts in connection with several cases of assault, suicide and death. According to an article in The Centre Daily Times, Mount Nittany Medical Center has seen roughly 20 cases of bath salt abuse this year. One physician reported at least five in the last two months.

With the number of calls to poison control climbing, the legality of the speedy fix has come under fire by politicians. Blair County’s state representative, Jerry Stern, authored a bill that (if passed) would land MDPV on the DEA’s list of Schedule I substances along side acid, marijuana and crack.

With all of the media scrutiny and mounting legal evidence, one would assume that you’d have to meet a sketchy dealer in a Calder parking garage to get your hands on a fix of bath salts. However, the synthetic substance skimmed under the FDA’s watch by neatly placing a ‘Not for Human Consumption’ label on the packaging. Now instead of knowing some guy, anyone with a legal drivers license can purchase a quarter gram of White Rush at local head shops for around $30.

However, that doesn’t mean business owners are completely sold on the idea of becoming a speed freak’s newest connect.

When I walked up the rasta-colored stairs case of Jamaica Junction’s 18+ section, I found myself surrounded by glass pieces and the smell of double apple shisha. Among the packs of ez-winders I found a shelf of cardboard boxes, disclaimered with a sign that read ‘Legal’. Inside were metallic pouches of (dun, dun, dunn) bath salts.

Fake meth didn’t exactly mesh with the chill vibe given off by the tie-dye shirts and Bob Marley memorabilia that dressed the store’s walls. It also didn’t sit well with Jamaica Junction owner, Uncle Mike. He admitted “agonizing” over the decision to stock up on the popular synthetics.

Despite his personal disapproval, Uncle Mike felt that having bath salts in his inventory was necessary to stay competitive with other downtown head shops. The product, though admittedly dangerous, is a hit with his customers. If Jamaica Junction pulled bath salts from its shelves, Uncle Mike was certain that he’d see a portion of sales go too.

Dragon Chasers Emporium had quite a similar story to tell, however they seemed less concerned then their veteran competitors. Maybe that’s because they have dollar signs in their eyes. An employee I spoke with said that since the store started selling bath salts, they have seen close to a double in sales. She admitted that figure was rough, but with some regular customers buying up to 10 packs a day, it’s hard to imagine that things have been slow around the shop.

Another lucrative aspect to selling this legal speed is that the markup is more outrageous than an amusement park concession stand. I could only track down the salts being sold on shady online wholesale sites like Alibaba and TradeKey, despite being told by Uncle Mike that he ordered from a catalog.

The US-based companies I contacted resemble small cook operations that one would normally associate with bath salt’s illegal bro, meth. Distributor’s phone lines were registered at residential locations and some addresses, when Map-Quested, turned out to be UPS stores. When I got in contact with one supplier, DBT Distributor, I was told that I could order 200 packets of 250mg White Rush for just $7 in cash or money order. At Dragon Chasers and Jamaica Junction, that would resell for $30.

With a markup of over 75% and customers constantly scratching for a fix, it’s easier to see why a business owner would be faced with a serious dilemma. They can choose to heed the public outcry and clear their shops of these harmful substances. Or they can continue to sell a legal product and make a good buck doing it.

Uncle Mike compared his decision to sell bath salts with a hypothetical situation. A convenience store sells lottery tickets. Even though gambling may be a vice, it doesn’t mean that a store’s owner can stop selling the Cash 5. At the end of the day it’s a business and if a product is unavailable in one place, customers will take their patronage elsewhere.

However, not all head shops in State College have taken the capitalist, money-over-bullshit approach. Grasshopper, Chronic Town and The House of Kashmir have all refused to put bath salts on the shelves next to their drug rugs.

An employee at Grasshopper said that he doesn’t sell legal salts because of the horror stories he’s been told. He also was fearful of legal liability being placed on head shops who are putting dangerous substances on the streets. It was his decision to steer clear from the legal speed trend.

That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been an impact on the business side. An employee at The House of Kashmir said that people coming and going after hearing he doesn’t carry bath salts is becoming increasingly common.

This faux-drug craze has posed an interesting case of competing values between ethical responsibility and the reality of running a business.

Head shops can give in to the angry Nancy Graces of State College and stop selling bath salts. However then they face being beaten by competitors who still carry the product and also lose out on a decent profit.

On the reverse, head shops can continue to push a legal substance while bringing home the big bucks and retaining a strong customer base. Then, however, lawmakers and physicians will continue to press for legal action and speed freaks will continue to stab priests.

What do you think about bath salts? Is it just another dangerous trend in legal highs?

*Disclaimer: Due to legal issues, it’s not in the shop’s best interest to admit that the product they are selling is being abused by their customers. But let’s be honest, no one is shelling out enough money for two cases of Natty to make their bath tubs smell like the rain forest.*

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