Hopefully everyone will agree with me on this: that face-eating zombie incident in Miami the other day was freaky, horrifying and deeply disturbing. For those that missed the story, a man named Rudy Eugene was shot by a police offer last month in Miami after he was witnessed chewing the face off a homeless man… Needless to say, it freaked me the hell out!
As a coping mechanism, I decided to do some research and write an article about ‘bath salts’. Not the type that makes your bathwater smell pretty, but the kind that can, as it turns out, turn you into a ‘zombie’ and make you eat someone’s face. Shudder and read on…
‘Bath salts’ is a nickname for synthetic cathinones, which are among the latest additions to a growing list of synthetic drugs of abuse. They mimic a parent compound, cathinone, which comes from the khat plant (Catha edulis). Khat has been chewed and prepared as a tea for thousands of years in Middle Eastern societies, and has mildly psychoactive (stimulating) effects. It’s a bit like the coca plant, which is used similarly in South American communities. Clearly there is nothing wrong with a bit of mild stimulation here and there. BUT, the production of a concentrated artificial form of cathinone yields a highly addictive and powerful drug similar to amphetamines.
The way in which a particular drug affects the user relates to how it affects the central nervous system. Effects may vary among different people as well, but are usually along the same lines. Psychoactive drugs like ‘bath salts’ cause the release of large amounts of catecholamines – hormones produced by the adrenal gland during times of stress. These affect perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behaviour. Sounds a bit like exams, actually.
Then there are the physical effects… here’s a case study from the Journal of Analytical Toxicology (Oxford University, yeah!):
“One of the three cases had prolonged treatment and hospitalization before death with symptoms similar to sympathomimetic toxicity, including metabolic acidosis, rhabdomyolysis, acute renal failure and disseminated intravascular coagulation.”
Translation: acidification of the body tissues, breakdown of skeletal muscle into the bloodstream, rapid kidney failure, and blood clots throughout all blood vessels in the body. Yeouch.
A combination of all of the above might just explain how someone could go as crazy as Rudy Eugene (the “Miami zombie”).
I’d like to finish by lightening the mood, so here’s a suitably terrible joke. How do they test for cathinone use? A khat scan! Bazinga.