The distinction is something Andrea Brockie never imagined she'd have to explain — particularly to kids.
But as the Toronto Star reports, the St. Lawrence Market salt shop owner noted a recent run-in with a 14-year-old boy looking to buy the bath salts that "get you high."
Brockie stocks Epsom salts. The bath salts the boy was looking for are a drug that has been linked to an increasing number of violent episodes and hospitalizations.
Even worse, he admitted he was planning to "sell the drug to his friends."
Despite the tsunami of bad press the amphetamine-type substance has received, there continues to be enormous confusion over the difference between the street drug and the crystals you put in your bathtub.
University of Windsor chemistry professor Robert Schurko explains. The bath salts meant for bathing contain a bouquet of inorganic, common and harmless compounds like sodium chloride, magnesium sulphate and sodium bicarbonate.
They can provide a fragrant means of softening your skin when dissolved in tub water.
The bath salts that go by street names like "Purple Wave," "Vanilla Sky" and "White Lady" are a synthetic drug commonly cut with a chemical called methylenedioxypyrovalerone (or MDPV for short) and have been reported to cause hallucinations, paranoia and violent behaviour.
The CBC also notes that other side effects can include increased risk of a heart attack, kidney failure, liver failure and suicide.
A number of users have reported an increased tolerance for pain, something that renders any violent episodes particularly frightening. If the user feels less pain, he or she is less likely to be deterred by the threat of force.
Buzzfeed even compiled a list of activities people high on bath salts have performed — a list ranging from the bizarre (like the man who drank hand sanitizer at a local drug store) to the downright horrifying (the man who attacked his elderly mother with a machete).
In fact, if there were an antithesis to a relaxing soak in the tub, these designer bath salts would be it.
So why does the confusion persist?
The answer is partly physical, partly logistical.
For one thing, both the street drug and the harmless bath additive take the form of white crystals.
And for now, you can still purchase bath salts over the Internet, the ease of which can mistakenly lead some to believe they're just as easy to snap up in spas.
But come fall, the Canadian government will be placing MDPV in a schedule 1 category under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act — the same section reserved for heroin and cocaine.
Methylone and mephedrone — a pair of MDPV alternatives — have already been declared illegal.
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Though the illegal classification might make it safe to assume these dangerous bath salts will disappear, the opposite seems to be happening.
Over the weekend, police seized $1.5 million worth of drugs, including what are believed to be bath salts, from a Toronto home, while Calgary police have also reported a surge in bath salt-related violence.
While authorities may have to work hard stem the tide of deadly bath salts hitting city streets, the new illegal designation and more detailed information may at the very least, one hopes, curb the number of teens casing Brockie's shop for a quick fix.