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A grotesque string of cannibalistic events has catalyzed internet discussions/rumors about a pending “zombie apocalypse”. Within several weeks, horrifying accounts have come from Canada, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland.

In the past, the Center for Disease Control light-heartedly disseminated zombie attacks survival tips. However, in light of recent Internet buzz, the CDC felt compelled to officially declare that there is no approaching zombie epidemic.

Unlike most zombie movies, there is no virus; but there are drugs. “Bath Salts”, a drug cocktail, produces a methamphetamine-like high and has been associated with violent behavior. Along with anecdotes of super-human strength, users often rip off their clothes due to extreme body heat elevations; internal organs overheat, leading to system shutdown. One policeman asserted, “By the time police approach them, they are a walking dead person.” Other effects of bath salts include reduced motor control, dizziness, insomnia, irritability, paranoia, seizures, delusions, depression, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. Some people have claimed to hear voices along with an increased tolerance for pain.

Bath salts are comprised of grey area “designer drugs”; including mephedrone, methylone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV for short). In October 2011, the DEA issued a twelve month ban on these substances, characterizing them as an “imminent threat to public safety”. The agency is weighing a permanent ban.

Mephedrone, a synthetic stimulant manufactured in China has effects similar to amphetamines and cocaine. A British survey of people who had used both cocaine and mephedrone identified a strong preference for the latter, finding it produced a better quality and longer lasting high.

Methylone, also known as “M1” was originally patented as an anti-depressant in 1996. Rumored to be sold in liquid form in the Netherlands as “Explosion”, methylone acts as a mixed reuptake inhibitor bathing the brain in increased levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

MDPV acts as a neurotransmitter reuptake inhibitor. A psychoactive drug, MDPV is often blended with other legal substances and sold as a recreational drug in gas stations and convenience stores. Another “zombie drug” has seen increased use in Columbia and Thailand. Known as “Devil’s Breath”, scopolamine causes memory loss and lack of willpower. In small doses, it has been used to treat bipolar patients and to combat depression. Reports are surfacing of large doses administered to women who disappear for days; only to be recovered beaten, raped and missing their possessions and children.

Scopolamine is colorless and tasteless, typically slipped into drinks and food. Victims become subservient and docile, helping thugs loot their own houses and drain their bank accounts. Victims wake to find they’ve been used as prostitutes. Most disturbingly, victims also willingly surrender their children to traffickers.

Scopolamine is not like other “date-rape” drugs, such as Rohypnol or “roofies”. Under hypnosis, the victim of a typical date-rape drug can usually recall the assault. Scopolamine blocks the formation of memories, making identification of perpetrators impossible. One Bogota police report referenced three women who smeared scopolamine on their breasts, offering men to lick it off their bodies. The men were held captive for days, surrendering their bank accounts. Yet these victims have no memory of their actions.

Scopolamine has existed in various forms for hundreds of years. Legend has it that pre-Columbian tribes administered scopolamine to the wives and slaves of fallen chiefs, rendering them submissive as they were buried alive to join their masters in the afterlife. The Nazis used scopolamine for interrogations. It is rumored to have been part of the CIA’s “Project MKULTRA”, carried out in the 50’s and 60’s. The project involved attempts to alter human brain function with drugs, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.

The tree that produces scopolamine grows wild in Bogota; mothers warn their children to avoid its flowers. Known as “borrachero” (“get you drunk”), even the trees’ pollen can cause unusual sleep and odd dreams. The seeds are lethal if eaten in sufficient amounts. Scopolamine was once used to treat addiction to cocaine and heroin; frequent doses of scopolamine were given over the course of three days until patients were delirious. After recovering, patients reported a loss of acute cravings for their abused drug.

The use of “zombie drugs”, much like a sci-fi zombie epidemic, has quickly spread across the country. In 2010, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 304 calls to individual centers involving bath salt exposure. The figure rose to 6,138 in 2011 and as of April 2012, over a thousand calls were logged. In wake of recent, heavily reported incidents, most people are expecting these figures to rise. Since the recent cannibalistic attack on a homeless man in Florida, stores report increased demand for bath salts components. No one knows how many of these users have pre-existing violent tendencies. However, with an eye on the prevalence of “copy-cat” crimes and a 24-hour media cycle, we will doubtless see more bizarre, grisly violence.