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I'm a Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto. I write about gun violence, health disparities, and Hip Hop culture. When I'm not doing research, I like pop-locking, swimming, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is my first blog. I hope you like it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bath Salts and Ultra Violence?

During the past couple weeks, I've come across shocking stories of people who become ultra violent after ingesting hallucinogens.  These stories are a sharp contrast to the likes of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.  The two stories are something closer to scenes from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

For example, the Internet is filled with stories of Rudy Eugene, a man who was discovered eating another man's face in Miami.  Reports are linking his ultra-violent behavior to "bath salts," a mostly legal synthetic compound that is said to produce a wide array of intense hallucinogenic results in users after ingestion. After being summoned by a fellow motorist, police officers shot and killed Eugene who allegedly growled at officers and continued chewing on the victim's facial flesh until he was shot and killed.  In the media frenzy, Eugene is being called everything from a crazed "zombie" to a cannibal on the Internet.

Ronald Poppo (victim) and Rudy Eugene 
A week ago, I read a somewhat similar story about Jarrod Wyatt, an aspiring MMA fighter who  dismembered and killed his training partner and friend, Taylor Powell.  According to reports, Wyatt and Powell both ate "magic mushrooms".  As the effects of the shrooms began to set in, both Wyatt and Powell began to have a bad trip.  I've read in some popular media accounts that Wyatt came to believe that he saw the devil in Powell's face.  Soon thereafter, he became convinced that he had to kill and dismember Powell.   Police discovered Powell dead with the skin of his face ripped off, his tongue pulled out, and his heart removed from his chest cavity.  Wyatt later admitted that he cut Powell's heart out of his chest when he was still alive.

These stories are shocking and horrifying to say the least.  I am saddened for the family members and friends of the victims in these two stories.  My hope is that they can all find some peace in the aftermath of such grisly events.  I guess only time will tell.

But, I also find it interesting (and maybe a little frustrating) that popular media and various anti-drug organizations are focusing so much of their collective energy and attention on condemning hallucinogenic drugs.  In the wake of these tragedies--which are extreme cases--both media and anti-drug organizations have effectively distorted the public health implications of drugs like psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and "bath salts."

In the bigger picture, psilocybin, bath salts, LSD, salvia, and a wide array of other licit and illicit hallucinogenic substances are far less of a public health danger than are more common substances like alcohol and tobacco.  Hallucinogens are amongst the least abused substances according to big surveys by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.  In fact, amongst illicit drugs, hallucinogens are the third least reported used/abused drug by survey respondents.  The only drugs that respondents used with less frequency were inhalants and heroin.  The rates of alcohol and tobacco use/abus are much higher than all illicit drugs.

Bath Salts: A New Public Health Danger? 
Likewise, alcohol and tobacco are closely implicated in a wide range of different leading causes of death in the US.  Last time I checked, automobile accidents were the leading cause of accidental death in the US (even ahead of firearm injuries) and heart disease/obesity/cancer were a far more lethal triumvirate than shrooms/acid/bath salts.

I realize that anti-drug organizations and reporters are opportunistic and see stories of grisly murder as a chance to warn the public about the potential dangers of magic mushrooms, "bath salts", and other substances that don't get as much public airtime.  At the same time, these reports should be placed in a much broader context so that the public understands the relative dangers of these drugs compared to the more familiar ones bought and sold at your local convenience store.


  1. "Bath Salts" as one of the most dangerous drugs.. Have a look what the doctors have to say .. http://liveoncampus.com/wire/show/3384311

    1. Nishima, thanks for sharing the link. I admittedly don't know very much about bath salts, but feel that some moral panic around it and other hallucinogens might distort the actual range of experiences people have on these and other drugs...I would be interested to hear about people who use bath salts recreationally without some of these side effects...Anyways, thanks for sending the link along--definitely interesting!

  2. Apparently "bath salts" are very dangerous, both in that they can cause rapid increases in blood pressure and heart rate and cause severe feelings of paranoia.

    It sounds like "bath salts" are more PCP than LSD.

  3. The G, thanks for your comment. I am curious to hear of other people's experiences with bath salts. So far, I can't find examples of recreational/benign usage of bath salts, but feel that this part of the drug subculture isn't being reported...The media tend to report a very narrow view of drugs and often do so because they have their own mandates to sell fear.

  4. I'm quite certain I will learn many new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!
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