New designer drug, 'bath salts,' may confer additional risk for adolescents

April 23, 2013

BOSTON -- Use and abuse of "bath salts," a new group of designer drugs, have been increasing in recent years, particularly among teenagers. Poison control centers received over 2,000 calls last year for patients with delusions, hallucinations and paranoia following "bath salt" use. Although the synthetic compounds found in "bath salts" are routinely changing in order to circumvent laws on banned substances, federal legislation recently added MDPV, a common constituent in "bath salts," to the list of Schedule 1 drugs - a list that includes cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and other stimulants similar to MDPV.

Andrew Merluzzi, an undergraduate researcher at American University's Psychopharmacology Laboratory in Washington, DC, uses animal models to study how vulnerability to drug use and abuse differs between adolescents and adults.

Although drug abuse research commonly focuses on reward, there is also another affective property of the drug, its aversive effect, which might limit drug intake. By pairing ingestion of a sweet solution with an injection of a drug over several conditioning trials, researchers are able to measure this aversive effect. Previous research has shown that adolescent rats typically find drugs less aversive than their adult counterparts, possibly indicating an increased vulnerability to use and abuse.

With help from Zachary Hurwitz, a graduate student at American University, Merluzzi's latest study examined how adolescent and adult rats differ in their response to the aversive effects of MDPV "bath salts" as well as MDPV's effect on core body temperature and brain monoamine neurotransmitter levels. Their findings will be presented April 23, 2013 at 12:30 pm during the Experimental Biology 2013 in Boston, MA.

Paralleling previous drug abuse literature, Merluzzi found that adolescents are less sensitive to the aversive effects of MDPV. Additionally, while adults exhibit increased body temperature following MDPV administration, adolescents exhibit a decrease. Further, neurotransmitter levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin are lower in adolescents. These data indicate that there are true behavioral, physiological and neurochemical differences between adolescents and adults in response to MDPV, possibly making adolescents more vulnerable to its use and abuse.
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To request an interview with Mr. Merluzzi, please contact Jim Bernstein at the contact information listed above.

About Experimental Biology 2013

Experimental Biology's mission is to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping future and current clinical advances - and to give scientists and clinicians an unparalleled opportunity to hear from colleagues working on similar biomedical problems using different disciplines. With six sponsoring societies and another 20 U.S. and international guest societies, the annual meeting brings together scientists from throughout the United States and the world, representing dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research. The meeting also offers a wide spectrum of professional development sessions.

About the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics

ASPET is a 5,100 member scientific society whose members conduct basic and clinical pharmacological research within the academic, industrial and government sectors. Our members discover and develop new medicines and therapeutic agents that fight existing and emerging diseases, as well as increase our knowledge regarding how therapeutics affects humans.

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

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