The Drug Enforcement Agency is proposing to list methylone, one of the designer drugs known as “bath salts,” as a Schedule I drug – that is, a substance with a high potential for abuse and no known medical use. But some researchers object, saying the drug has potential as a treatment for anxiety disorders.
The agency temporarily listed methylone as a Schedule I substance on October 21. It is accepting public comments through December 17 at regulations.gov on whether to make that listing permanent.
Bath salts have sparked a wave of public concern after reports that they made users “paranoid, violent and unpredictable.” “One user bit an emergency room doctor,” the Minnesota Star Tribune reported. “Another hid in the woods because he thought people were out to kill him. Another saw werewolves.” (The most notorious case linked to bath salts, however – that of a Florida man who repeatedly bit another man’s face, causing extensive injuries – turned out not to involve the drugs at all.)
In its proposal, the DEA points out that “there is no currently accepted medical use for methylone and no medical practitioner is currently licensed by law to administer methylone." It adds that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the drug for human use or testing.
Dr. Nicholas Cozzi of the University of Wisconsin collaborated with the National Institute on Drug Abuse in a study of methylone earlier this year. He says anecdotal evidence suggests the drug holds promise for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety-related conditions.
“In my opinion, too little is known about methylone at this time to conclude that it has no therapeutic applications,” Cozzi, whose research is ongoing, wrote in an email.
Cozzi would prefer to see methylone classified as a Schedule II substance, which would still label it as having “a high potential for abuse,” but would acknowledge its possible medical benefits. He says that would make it easier for researchers to test the drug in humans, if further preliminary tests confirm its promise. Cozzi admits, though, that without proven medical benefits it's difficult to make the case for a Schedule II listing.
Other Schedule II drugs include codeine, morphine, opium and hydrocodone (Vicodin).
The Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies, which lobbies for medical research into drugs like LSD, Ecstasy and marijuana, also opposes a Schedule I listing for methylone. The group’s spokesman, Brad Burge, says the listing carries a “stigma” that hinders scientists from exploring a drug’s health potential.
“It’s hard for researchers to come together to talk about substances that are defined as criminal recreational drugs,” he said by phone from his office in California.
So far five commenters on regulations.gov agree with Burge and Cozzi. Four others have taken the DEA’s side.
“With our troops returning home from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is vital that we are fully equipped to treat the complex and dangerous psychological issues that manifest upon their return,” writes commenter Erik Peterson. “We simply cannot do that by prematurely banning entire families of chemicals before we know how they may be of use in treatment.”
The highly-regarded Cleveland Clinic, however, writes that the Schedule I classification “is most appropriate at this time” because of the drugs’ resemblance to other substances already listed on Schedule I - as well as “limited safety data, and no medicinal use identified with methylone.”
The DEA regulates drugs under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which gives the Attorney General (head of the Justice Department, the DEA's parent agency) the power to add drugs to schedules and remove them.
Want to weigh in on methylone yourself? Add your comment at regulations.gov before December 17 – and copy it here for GIMBY readers to discuss!