The availability and depiction of synthetic cathinones (bath salts) on the Internet: Do online suppliers employ features to maximize purchases?

Kathleen Meyers, Övgü Kaynak, Elena Bresani, Brenda Curtis, Ashley McNamara, Kristine Brownfield, Kimberly C. Kirby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: "Bath salts", a derivative of cathinone, a naturally occurring beta-ketone amphetamine analogue found in the leaves of the khat (Catha edulis) plant, is a potent class of designer drugs associated with significant medical and psychiatric consequences. They are commonly used among 20-29 year olds, a group with easy access to the Internet and an inclination to purchase online. Therefore, the Internet has the potential to play a significant role in the distribution and associated consequences of these "legal highs". Methods: Google searches were used to determine bath salts availability on retail websites and how different search terms affected the proportion of retail websites obtained. Retail websites were reviewed by two independent raters who examined content with a focus on characteristics that increase the likelihood of online sales. Results: Of the 250 websites found, 31 were unique retail websites. Most retail website hits resulted when a product name was used as the search term. The top three countries hosting retail websites were registered in the United States (n= 14; 45%), Germany (n= 7; 23%), and the United Kingdom (n= 3; 10%). These online drug suppliers provided considerable information and purchasing choice about a variety of synthetic cathinones, legitimized their sites by using recognizable images, online chat features, and mainstream payment and shipping methods, and employed characteristics that promote online purchases. Conclusion: Online designer drug suppliers use sophisticated methods to market unregulated products to consumers. The international community has taken diverse approaches to address designer drugs: legislative bans, harm reduction approaches, an interim regulated legal market. Multifaceted efforts that target bath salt users, suppliers, and emergency/poison control entities are critical to comprehensively address bath salt ingestion and its consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)670-674
Number of pages5
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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