Call me naïve, but I did not understand until I was chatting with my teenage kids about current events yesterday that “bath salts” aren’t actually bath salts.

We were of course talking about the grisly incident in Miami last weekend in which one man mauled another, chewing the flesh off his face. When police officers couldn’t get the man to stop biting his victim, they had to shoot him dead.

It’s not known what exactly caused that behavior – or why the assailant was nude — but it’s been widely speculated that he may have been high on “bath salts.” (Toxicology reports from the autopsy reportedly won’t be available for weeks.)

I had heard of people using bath salts as drugs before, but I actually thought they were the same thing people use in their bathtubs.

Admit it: At least some of you thought so too, right?

Anyway, “bath salts” turn out to be a dangerous concoction of chemicals that are in many areas easily accessible at convenience stores, smoke shops, head shops and over the Internet. They’re also called “plant food” and are marketed under such product names as Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky and Bliss, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The DEA says these drugs are meant to create highs that mimic those caused by cocaine, LSD and methamphetamines. People who take them may experience “impaired perception, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia and violent episodes.”

Noting that violent episodes and poison-control calls related to bath-salt use increased sharply in 2011, the DEA last October added the three synthetic substances used to make bath salts (mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and methylone) to its list of Schedule I controlled substances. That restriction stays in place for at least a year and makes the possession or sale of those substances or any product containing them illegal in the United States. Meanwhile, many states have taken action against the sale of bath salts. But some online sites game that system, offering state-by-state lists of products made from combinations of ingredients that haven’t been banned by the state in question. (No, I’m not providing a link to any of those sites.)

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed a federal ban on bath salts, fake marijuana and the products used to make them. Such a nationwide ban, if passed by the House of Representatives, would make it harder for vendors who take advantage of the variations in state laws to hawk their illicit drugs. Is it too much to hope that this might put a dent in this problem?