What Is Flakka?
Flakka is a synthetic or designer drug. It is typically made from a synthetic version of an amphetamine-like stimulant in the cathinone class called alpha-PVP. Synthetic cathinones are man-made stimulants that are chemically related to the substance cathinone, which is found in the khat plant. The plant is grown in Arabia and East Africa and some people chew the leaves for mild stimulant effects. Flakka is similar to the street drug bath salts. The drug is commonly snorted, injected, eaten, smoked, or vaporized in e-cigarettes. A common street name for Flakka (itself a street ahem for alpha-PVP) is “gravel,” because of its appearance. The drug is typically found in crystal form and is white or pink. People with a Flakka addiction are at a great risk for injury and death.
Synthetic cathinones like Flakka are part of a group of drugs known as New Psychoactive Substances (NPS). First immerging in the drug market in the mid-2000’s, they have been designed to mimic other illicit drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy and LSD. There are many types of cathinones, such as Mephedrone, Methylone, Methcathinone, Bupropion and Buphedrone.
Alpha-PVP was first discovered in 1963 and was first patented in 1967 as a central nervous system stimulant. These stimulants are typically used to treat patients with attention deficit disorder or narcolepsy. In 2013, alpha-PVP became available as a tablet, and by 2014, it started gaining popularity under the name Flakka. It quickly gained Schedule I status, meaning it has no medical value and a high potential for abuse.
The sudden explosion of Flakka concerned communities because of the violent acts its users were committing. Flakka is thought to have started gaining popularity in South Florida, and the drug burst into news outlets when a 19-year-old college student stabbed a couple to death and then starting gnawing on the male victim’s face. The police believed he was high on Flakka. The first effects upon consuming Flakka are ones of euphoria, feeling focused and stimulated, having an increased sex drive, and being sociable. However, when the high wears off, users will need to increase their intake of the drug, leading to negative side effects. Flakka is extremely dangerous and has caused users to commit suicide.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that Flakka causes a condition called “excited delirium” which involves hyperstimulation, hallucinations, increased strength, and paranoia. These symptoms can lead to self-injury and violent aggression, causing users to have a psychotic episode. Flakka also impacts the body, raising body temperature up to 104 degrees (hyperthermia). Users may also experience liver and renal failure, hypertension, narrowing of the blood vessels, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, and death.
Regardless of the method of administering Flakka, there is a high risk of overdose. One of the reportedly fastest ways to overdose on flakka is through vaping because users who vape flakka are unable to measure how much of the substance they are ingesting. In these cases, the drug enters the bloodstream too quickly and overwhelms the body’s systems. The symptoms of a Flakka overdose include heart problems, agitation, aggressive behavior, and psychosis.
What’s the Difference Between Flakka and Bath Salts?
Flakka and bath salts are chemically very similar and have nearly identical effects on users. Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) is the active ingredient in bath salts. The difference between Flakka and bath salts is that Flakka lacks a cluster of atoms called the 3,4-methylenedioxy motif. In a study published by The Scripps Research Institute, researchers found that the potential for addiction with Flakka and bath salts was almost equal.
Bath salts have the same effects as Flakka, such as increased sex drive, hallucinations, panic attacks, paranoia, and increased sociability. Smoking, snorting, injecting, or swallowing bath salts can lead to overdose and death. Flakka and bath salts are packaged and sold similarly, labeled as “not for human consumption” and sold under the ruse of calling it plant food or jewelry cleaner.
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The Dangers of a Flakka Addiction
In 2011, synthetic cathinones were involved in over 20,000 emergency department visits. The public fear of bath salts started in 2012, when a Miami man stripped naked and ate the face of another man in broad daylight. When police ordered him stop eating the man’s face, he growled like an animal and the officer was forced to shoot the attacker, taking 4 bullets to finally stop him. This is when people started referring to Flakka and bath salts as the “zombie drug” because of the way it affected its users, causing them to lose touch with reality and try to eat other people. This trend started in Florida but is slowly spreading throughout the rest of the country.
There have been reports of Flakka appearing in Ohio neighborhoods, but being mixed with opioids. In May 2019, Ohio Emergency Medical Services said that the mixture led to the overdose death of three people in Ohio. Although there is not a lot of research on combining opioids and Flakka yet, it is always dangerous to mix drugs. In October 2019, the Utah police reported that Flakka had made its way to their state. Police seized a package being delivered from the Netherlands to someone’s home in Magna, Utah that contained Flakka, along with other drugs, prescription medications, and paraphernalia.
A survey from February 2019 found that 1% of American teenagers have knowingly tried Flakka, and researchers believe more teens have taken the drug without knowing it was Flakka. Flakka is often added to the party drug Ecstasy, so users may be unaware of what the drug actually contains. Some regions have higher rates of teenage Flakka use, such as the Miami area, and some populations have higher rates of using Flakka, such as Latino populations.
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With all of the negative consequences of using Flakka, it is hard to imagine why someone would put themselves at risk by choosing this drug. Affordability is one of the main factors. A gram of cocaine can cost up to $80 and many people, especially college students, homeless, and low-income populations, cannot afford an expensive drug habit. On average, a hit of Flakka costs $3 to $5. The drug is cheap, obtainable, and the high is longer and more intense. The high from snorting Cocaine lasts up to 30 minutes, and the high from smoking it lasts up to 10 minutes. The high from Flakka can last up to 5 hours.
Flakka causes unpredictable effects because its components can be a variety of harmful ingredients. Flakka is reported to be at least ten times stronger than cocaine. Some combinations of Flakka produce dissociative symptoms seen in ketamine or other sedatives, such as heavy benzodiazepine use.
Flakka acts as a stimulant when taken in small doses and can make users feel euphoric and more alert. It can also produce hallucinatory effects in some users. High doses of flakka can mimic the effects of cocaine and meth, which can cause twitching, delusions and even seizures.
Synthetic cathinones are addictive, and can cause withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, tremors, paranoia, depression, and sleeping issues. In animal studies, researchers found that rats became addicted to Flakka and would press a lever to deliver drugs to them as many times as possible. Rats also were more addicted to synthetic cathinones than crystal meth. Co-senior author of the study, at The Scripps Research Institute, Associate Professor Tobin J. Dickerson said, “Animals will self-administer MDPV like no drug I have ever seen.” Flakka is dangerous and addictive, and users should seek out professional treatment if they have used the drug.
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Get Help for a Flakka Addiction Today
As of now, there are no treatment medications available for a Flakka addiction. Behavioral therapy can be used to treat a Flakka addiction, and treatment professionals will be able to screen for any co-occurring mental disorders. If you or someone you know has a Flakka addiction, contact a treatment provider today. Flakka is a dangerous drug and may result in users not only hurting themselves, but hurting others as well.