“Bath salts” is the most common name for substances that fall within a broad category of drugs called synthetic cathinones, which are related to a naturally-occurring stimulant found in the khat plant.

Synthetic cathinones were discovered several decades ago through legitimate laboratory research. In the early 2000s, mephedrone, a synthetic cathinone, was the first to appear as a legal product available in convenience stores and bodegas under names like White Magic, M-CAT, or meow meow.

Mephedrone powder, a synthetic cathinone product
Mephedrone powder, a synthetic cathinone product.

While mephedrone was more popular in Europe, the synthetic cathinone that became synonymous with “bath salts” in the United States was methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV. In the late 2000s, MDPV was being sold as plant food or cleaning/hygienic products labelled “Not for Human Consumption,” under brand names like Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky, and White Lightning.

Since their effects are sometimes reported to be similar to other psychostimulants, and because they are cheaper to produce, synthetic cathinones are often found in drugs sold as “molly” meant to be MDMA.

MDPV was banned in 2011 in the U.S. followed by many other synthetic cathinones in 2012. While this ban prevented synthetic cathinones from being openly sold at retailers, it simply shifted supply to the internet and individual sellers.

See the fact sheet for more information and sources.