It wouldn't be a new year without some media-escalated moral panic over a new and potentially dangerous intoxicant. Except 2012's hazard, a synthetic and cheap legal chemical sold as "bath salts"—varying compositions of mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), and methylone—did have some fairly harrowing consequences. Users who'd ingested too much recounted super-human strength, feelings of demonic possession, vibrantly nightmarish hallucinations; police reports featuring assailants suspected to be under the influence of bath salts documented rabid-animal behaviors like biting, kicking, and primal viciousness.

"If you take the worst attributes of meth, coke, PCP, LSD and Ecstasy and put them together, that's what we're seeing sometimes," Louisiana Poison Center director told the New York Times in 2011.

But cultural hysteria has a way of muddying fact. The Biggest Bath Salts Story of 2012, for example, ultimately had nothing to do with bath salts. Yet that incident turned these synthetic chemicals into an apocalyptic bogeyman, associating the drug with zombies and setting off a chain of ha-ha stupid criminal stories, when this all probably had a lot more to do with, oh, mental illness, addiction, and socio-economic problems. But hey, ZOMBIES!

Ahead, your year in cultural bath-salt moments. Some of these may break your heart. Just kidding, this drug is gnarly.

(Third image above via AP / Rogelio V. Solis)

A Bath Salts Addict Appears on 'Intervention,' Even the Experts Aren't Sure How To Help

February 20, 2012

Season 11, Episode 8 of Intervention introduces the world to Skyler Russell, a 20-something with severe mother issues who's been addicted to bath salts for seven months and snorts up to 10 lines a day. His on-camera highs are awful: Skyler hallucinates, scales living-room shelves in search of "phase people," climbs the roof to fight "shadow people." Over the last six months, the child reality-show contestant visited the emergency room four times for MDPV-related psychosis. Ultimately, even the show's experts aren't exactly sure how to help.

"VIDEO: Bath Salts Seem Like the Least Fun Drug in the World" (Jezebel)
"Intervention: Skyler, Addicted to Bath Salts" (Gizmodo)

Cat Marnell Snorts Bath Salts at Work

February 21, 2012

Following "the trend of bath-salts-snorting worldwide," former XO Jane beauty editor (and glamorous Gawker hurricane buddy) tooted a line of Napoleon Perdis Jaipur Jasmine Bath Salts for the camera while her boss, Jane Pratt, giggled. Except they weren't the MDPV kind, but the boring old epsom kind. "I didn't get high," Marnell later wrote, "But I did feel weird and then I got a little headache and then I felt dumb but that's how I always feel when people talk to me about Google+ and Pinterest and Wikis."


The "Miami Cannibal" Attack

May 27, 2012

Last May, 31-year-old Rudy Eugene abandoned his car, tore off all his clothes, and came upon a homeless man, Ronald Poppo, whom he inexplicably attacked, removing the victim's pants and rapaciously gnawing on his face for a startling 18 minutes. When law enforcement arrived at the scene, Eugene continued his monstrous assault, pausing only to growl, until police shot him dead. Officials presumed Eugene had been high on bath salts, given his super-human strength and, well, the fact that he ate a stranger's face on the street for a very, very long time.

"What The Hell Happened: How Rudy Eugene Transformed Into the ‘Miami Zombie'"

(Images via AP)

Alleged Photos of "Miami Cannibal" Victim Circulate

May 29, 2012

If you looked, that's on you.

"Do These Unbelievably Horrifying Photos Show the Miami Cannibal's Victim?"

(Image by Jim Cooke)

CNN Gets a Temporary Bath Salts Correspondent

June 4, 2012

Here's what the world needs: a drug that makes you feel possessed by Jason Voorhees. That's how recovering addict Freddy Sharp described the experience of an overdose during a CNN interview. The network brought on the Tennessean—a 27-year-old drug user since the age of 13—to explain harrowing police footage of him writing demonically on bath salts. Denver's Westword has a pot critic, now CNN had its own special-team bath-salts correspondent.

"Recovering Bath Salts User Says Drug Makes You Feel ‘10 Feet Tall and Bulletproof'"

(screengrab via CNN)

'Miami Cannibal' Aspiring Copycat

June 6, 2012

A week after Rudy Eugene transformed into the "Miami Cannibal," another Miami local, 21-year-old Brandon De Leon, got into a verbal altercation outside a Boston Market. When police came to break it up, De Leon apparently resisted, giving them the middle finger and cursing viciously. CBS Tampa Bay reports:

When he was finally detained by police, De Leon would repeatedly bang his head against the Plexiglas in the police car, yelling, "I'm going to eat you," at a police officer, according to police reports. Media reports indicate that De Leon's actions reached a level that police deemed it necessary to place the 21-year-old in a bite mask and leg restraints.

When brought into custody, De Leon had rum and Four Loko with him, but tests later revealed Cloud 9, a potent over-the-counter line of bath salts, in De Leon's bloodstream, along with Xanax and cannabis.

"Police Say Potent Line of ‘Bath Salts' Responsible for Turning People into 'Zombies'"

"Cannibal Copycat? Police Say Man High On Bath Salts Threatened To Eat Officer" (CBS Local Tampa Bay)

(Image: Miami-Dade Corrections)

Riff Raff + Tiger Blood = "Bath Salts"

June 14, 2012

Naturally, the most calculatedly musical viral human being of 2012 would name a song after the year's most inescapable drug-terror meme. And that's exactly what cornrowed white-boy hip-hop invention Riff Raff did, releasing a faux-homage that's only apparent lyrical mention of the drug is a convoluted "tiger-blood" reference. (One bath-salts strain sold online was named "Charley Sheene.")

"RiFF RAFF & GHETTY 'BATH SALTS' (Official Video)"

'SPIN' Publishes In-Depth Bath Salts Feature

June 14, 2012

In the July/August print issue of SPIN, writer Natasha Vargas-Cooper investigated the headshop-spun culture of bath-salts, spending time with a Nevada addict couple who'd shot up the drug in a hotel room, meeting with a senior research chemist studying the drug from within the DEA's Office of Forensic Sciences, and visiting a family who'd lost a son very likely to bath-salt-related causes. It was a very good piece.

(Disclosure: somebody whose name rhymes with Mamille Modero also had a feature in that same print issue, but that's the extent of the personal connection.)


(Image: SPIN's July/August cover / Photo by Dan Martensen)

Miami Cannibal Not Actually On Bath Salts

June 27, 2012

From the coroner's report:

The ME's office said that "within the limits of current technology by both laboratories," marijuana was the only drug found in Eugene's system.

Will anybody actually remember this minor detail? Unlikely.

"The Miami Cannibal Wasn't on Bath Salts or ‘Spice' or Jenkem or Rainbow Parties"

(Image: Jim Cooke via Jezebel)

New Mom Smokes Bath Salts in a Maternity Ward

July 5, 2012

Carla Murphy of Altoona, Pennsylvania had a baby and smoked bath salts in the maternity ward. It did not end well: she stripped herself naked, kicked nurses, and tried to bite a cop.

"Arrested: New mom smokes bath salts, goes WILD in maternity ward" (NY Daily News)

(screengrab via CNN)

A$AP Mob Track "Bath Salt" Released

July 26, 2012

A$AP Rocky's crew A$AP Mob released a track called "Bath Salt" featuring Flatbush Zombies' Juice and Darko, but unlike Riff Raff's dubious jaunt, this song's lyrics actually threatened some seriously macabre possessed-murder shit. ("Razor blades dipped in bleach / Tear your skin to pieces / Dump the body in Tennessee / Highway getaway OJ Bronco," etc.) Grantland's Alex Pappademas used the track to flesh out rap's recent bath-salts obsession. Yelawolf, Cage, Childish Gambino, and Soulja Boy were guilty too.

"Bath Salt (prod. P On The Boards) (feat. Flatbush ZOMBiES)" via Soundcloud
"Killa Seasoning: A Brief History of How Bath Salts Became Hip-Hop's New Favorite Meme" (Grantland)

High North Carolina Couple Shoot at Imaginary Criminals, Break Into Pastor's House

August 1, 2012

Gaston County, North Carolina residents Donna Jean and Phillip Walls, a couple with "a history of using bath salts," believed gang members were parked outside their house and called the cops. Then they proceeded to gather a duffel bag of guns, wigs, and jewelry and barge into their neighbor's house, but not before firing shots in the air and rolling around with a dog.

P.S. The one on the right is Phillip.

"Bath Salts Strike Again: North Carolina Couple High on the ‘Drug' Shoot at Imaginary Criminals, Break Into Pastor's House"

(Image via Kings Mountain Police)

Tennessee Artist Draws Self-Portrait While on Bath Salts

Fall 2012

Although Tennessee artist Bryan Saunders has done a self-portrait every single day for the last 17 years, culminating in more than 8,700 images, his most famous are the 50 that went viral this year, ones composed on drugs as varied as salvia, zoloft, weed brownies, and lighter fluid.

Saunders recently told writer Jon Ronson that antidepressant Trazodone was one of the scarier experiences ("Trazodone gave me this real intense sensitivity to light," he says. "I turned all the lights off. But being in the dark was terrifying. I ended up calling the hospital."). But perhaps the most violently creepy self-portrait is the angry pencil sketch drawn on bath salts (above), a picture that shares a vaguely surreal resemblance to deformed Goonies creature Sloth. Mushrooms look far lovelier.

"Artist Draws 8,628 Self-Portraits Under the Influence of Love and Other Drugs" (Wired)

"Bryan Saunders: Portrait of the Artist on Crystal Meth" (Guardian)


John McAfee Wanted for Murder

November 12, 2012

Antivirus pioneer John McAfee went on the lam after being named the prime suspect in the murder of American expatriate Gregory Faull. McAfee was also a very big fan of bath salts. Gizmodo reports:

Writing under the name "stuffmonger," a handle he has used on other online message boards, McAfee posted more than 200 times over the next nine months about his ongoing quest to purify psychoactive drugs from compounds commercially available over the internet. "I'm a huge fan of MDPV," he wrote. "I think it's the finest drug ever conceived, not just for the indescribable hypersexuality, but also for the smooth euphoria and mild comedown."

McAfee is now in the custody of Guatemalan officials, after Vice accidentally released his geographical coordinates. Whoopsee.

"Exclusive: John McAfee Wanted for Murder (Updated)" (Gizmodo)

79-Year-Old Ex-Bull Rider ‘Throat Punched' Bath-Salted Burglar

December 4, 2012

Charles Smith, a 38-year-old with a "history of using bath salts," was apparently tripping when he wrecked his truck in League City, Texas, grabbed his rifle, and tried to break into a nearby house. Unfortunately for him, the property belonged to Ervin Brittnacher (pictured above), a 79-year-old former professional bull rider and nightclub owner who "throat punched [the suspect] and karate chopped the side of his neck," according to local Police Department Sgt. Tamara Spencer.

"He's a pretty tough man," Brittnacher's son told ABC News. "He'd do anything for anybody. You wouldn't want to mess with him."

"79-Year-Old Ex-Bull Rider ‘Throat Punched' Burglar Stoned on Bath Salts"