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State Health Department Bans "Bath Salts" and Five Synthetic Cannabinoids 

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"Tranquility", "Cloud 9", "Vanilla Sky" and similarly named products sold online as "bath salts" may sound as calm and relaxing as a hot bubble bath, but these ain't your grandma's epsom salts. Bath salts are the street name for the designer drug, Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPK), a powerful new stimulant to hit the underground drug scene in the last few years. MDPK, along with the much older hallucinogen, Salvia divinorum, or "Seer's Sage" (right), have just joined the ranks of illegal substances in Vermont, with possession of a single dose of these drugs constituting a felony.

The Vermont Department of Health announced this morning that it has banned the use, sale, possession or manufacture of bath salts and other designer drugs, which are sold in head shops and over the Internet to skirt state drug laws. As of December 16, bath salts and five synthetic cannabinoids — the active ingredients in marijuana — are now illegal in the Green Mountain State.

On August 4, Gov. Peter Shumlin put an emergency rule in place to prevent the use of bath salts from spreading until the health department could amend the state's Regulated Drug Rule. Vermont now joins at least 24 other states that have banned the substance. A copy of the amended rule is available at

Under the new rule, anyone found guilty can be sentenced to up to a year in prison and fined $2,000. The penalty for selling an illegal hallucinogenic drug in Vermont is up to three years in prison and a fine of $25,000.  For possession or sale of 1,000 doses or more, the penalty is up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.

Use of bath salts, both locally and nationally, has spiked in recent years. The Northern New England Poison Center has recorded nearly 200 cases (147 in Maine, 35 in New Hampshire and 11 in Vermont) as of November. State officials say these numbers represents just a small fraction of the overall abuse believed to be going on. Nationally, reported cases have increased from 303 in 2010 to 4,720 in 2011. 

"These substances serve no useful purpose and have the potential to cause extensive harm to individuals and whole communities,” says Health Commissioner Harry Chen, in a press statement.

Criminalizing these drugs will protect Vermonters and prevent potential problems in the future, says Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn. 

“We don’t have a serious problem with it right now, but the best strategy is to get out in front of this before it has a chance to gain a foothold here in Vermont,” Commissioner Flynn says.

Salvia divinorum is legal in most other countries and to date, the U.S. government has not outlawed its sale, use, manufacture or possession. The plant, which grows in the Sierra Mazatec region of Mexico, has been used for centuries by native peoples for healing and spiritual purposes. The drug hit the psychedelic subculture worldwide starting in the early 1990s, and its use has spread ever since.

Based on contributor feedback to Erowid, a nonjudmental pharmacopea website, the experience of using bath salts can range from a "mellow tweak" to "interesting but strong," to "worst night of my life" and "96 hours of fun, hell, anxiety and insanity."

The site's authors write about Salvia:

"Depending on dosage, the Salvia divinorum experience can vary from a subtle, just-off-baseline state to a full-blown psychedelic experience. At higher doses, users report dramatic time distortion, vivid imagery, encounters with beings, travel to other places, planets or times, living years as the paint on a wall or experiencing the full life of another individual. Needless to say, these can be extremely powerful experiences and should only be attempted with a sitter. While most people remain unmoving during the experience, some individuals will attempt to get up and walk around while in a completely dissociated state...

"Salvia divinorum is aversive for many who try it. Strong effects can be difficult to attain from smoking dried leaf, but extracts and potency-bred leaves can cause dramatic, sometimes frightening, and completely enfolding entheogenic mind-states. Many people who try S. divinorum do not find the effects at all pleasant and choose not to repeat the experience."

Hmm, interesting. This holiday season, I think I'll stick to a glass of Bailey's.

Public domain photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

 This post has been corrected. Due to an error in the press release sent by the Health Department, the original post misstated the penalty for possession. Also, the descriptions of bath salts and salvia have been clarified.

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Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.

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