What is Flakka?

flakka in glass container

Flakka is a synthetic drug that comes in pink or white crystals. The chemical compound of flakka, α-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone, is also called α-PVP. It is a dangerous designer drug that has become an increasingly popular street drug in the U.S. Flakka derived its name from the Spanish slang “la flaca,” which refers to a thin, beautiful woman. 

Chemically similar to bath salts, flakka has appeared in numerous bizarre news stories in the past six years. While drug users might use this drug because of the euphoria they might experience, it is very easy to overdose when taking it. Even a small overdose can cause serious delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, extreme agitation, seemingly superhuman strength, and bizarre and violent behavior. Called agitated delirium, people can enter this state when their bodies and brains are overstimulated by ingestion of the drug. In addition to the altered mental states and potential for violence, people who are in states of excited delirium also show the following types of symptoms: 

  • Temperature of 105 degrees or higher
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Substantial increase in blood pressure
  • Profuse sweating
  • Dilated pupils

Flakka’s use poses significant risks to both the user and those around him or her. 

What is flakka?

Flakka is a synthetic Cathinone stimulant. The Cathinone synthetic stimulants have similar chemical structures to naturally occurring Cathinone, which is a substance found in Khat plants grown in East Africa and Arabia. Chewing the leaves of the Khat plant can result in a mild stimulant effect. However, the synthetic drug flakka is very concentrated as compared to the Cathinone contained in the plant’s leaves. Flakka is also chemically similar to bath salts, another dangerous street drug. People who use flakka can snort, inject, smoke, eat, or vape it. Another street name used for flakka is gravel because of how it looks. 

History of flakka

After its discovery in 1963, α-PVP received a patent in 1967 as a central nervous system stimulant. Typically, CNS stimulants are used to treat people with narcolepsy or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The drug was released in tablet form in 2013 and started gaining popularity as a street drug in 2014. The federal government has now classified it as a Schedule I drug, which means that it has high abuse potential and offers no medical benefits. 

In a 2015 study that was published in the journal Psychopharmacology, researchers found that flakka caused similar responses in rats as bath salts did. They also found that this drug is more addictive than methamphetamine. While the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration placed a ban on flakka and bath salts, manufacturers try to evade these types of bans by making slight alterations in their chemical structures. 

Flakka in the news

Beginning in 2014, sensational stories of violent acts committed by flakka abusers and their bizarre behavior started appearing in the national news media. These stories alarmed communities across the U.S. and especially in Florida, where many of the reports originated. In one case, a naked 41-year-old man in Melbourne, Florida, streaked through a neighborhood while yelling that he was God and then tried to have sex with a tree. When the police arrived, he tried to fight an officer and was tasered twice. However, he pulled out the probes each time he was struck and then attempted to stab the officer with the officer’s badge. 

Flakka Addiction

In another case, a man went to the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, police department and told officers that he was high on flakka. He then tried to run away and scaled a fence surrounding the police headquarters, and impaled himself on a foot-long spike while trying to get over it. 

In an incident that happened a month before the impaling incident, a different man who was high on flakka attempted to break down the doors of Fort Lauderdale Police Headquarters. Police described his seemingly superhuman strength as he nearly broke through the hurricane-proof doors. He told the police that multiple vehicles were chasing him before trying to flee, but he was quickly caught. 

Because of these and other horrific incidents involving people high on flakka, both it and bath salts, which cause similar effects, began known as zombie drugs. Flakka has not been limited to Florida, however. Instead, it has appeared in states across the U.S.

Effects of flakka

When users initially ingest flakka, they experience a sense of euphoria, alertness, and an increased sex drive. However, to maintain their high, they must take increasing doses. This can cause them to experience excited delirium, including hallucinations, paranoia, increased strength, delusions, and other altered mental states. Flakka can cause the body temperature to shoot up and cause heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, liver failure, kidney failure, and death. Some people who use flakka also become suicidal. 

Anytime someone uses flakka, there is a risk of overdose. The risk is especially great when people vape this drug because they cannot estimate how much of the drug they are taking. Vaping flakka also causes the drug to enter the bloodstream much faster. 

Flakka vs. bath salts

The chemical compound in bath salts is methylenedioxypyrovalerone or MDPV, which is very similar to the structure of α-PVP, the active compound in flakka. Flakka doesn’t have one atom cluster that MDPV does. The addictive potential for these two synthetic stimulants is nearly identical, however, and both are more addictive than methamphetamines, as previously described. 

 Both substances cause hallucinations, agitation, paranoia, increased sex drive, and the potential for exciting delirium and violent behavior. Like flakka, bath salts can cause overdoses and death. Both bath salts and flakka are sold in packages with labels that are meant to help the sellers evade the police. The packages might contain statements such as “not fit for human consumption” and be labeled as things like “jewelry cleaner” or “plant food.”

Flakka addiction

In 2019, a study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that 1% of high school teens across the U.S. admitted to using flakka. However, since the researchers relied on a survey format, the true number could be higher. 

While fewer news reports about people violently attacking others or behaving bizarrely while high on flakka have appeared in the last couple of years, the drug continues to be a real problem. On Sept. 12, 2021, for example, police in Huntsville, Alabama, seized a pound of flakka during a drug bust. On June 2, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of eight people for trafficking in flakka and MDMA in Jacksonville, Florida. If convicted, the people face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison. 

The fact that this drug is still being trafficked and used by people despite the horrific reports of its potential effects points to its addictiveness. Another reason why some drug users choose flakka is that it is cheap. For example, Statista reports that the average street price for a gram of cocaine in 2019 was $120. By contrast, drug users can purchase a hit of flakka at a price ranging from $3 to $5. Unfortunately, this means that the people who are most likely to try flakka and become addicted to it are young people and the poor. Flakka also has a much longer high than cocaine of up to five hours versus 30 minutes for snorting cocaine. While the effect of taking this drug might cause a high for a few hours, it causes lasting neurological damage. 

Synthetic stimulants are highly addictive and can cause significant withdrawal symptoms, including depression, paranoia, sleeping problems, anxiety, and tremors. In the study involving rats that were previously mentioned, the researchers found that rats that were addicted to flakka pressed a lever to get more of the drug as many times as they could. The rats were also more addicted to flakka than meth and showed a clear preference for the substance. People who are addicted to flakka should seek immediate detox and treatment so they can recover from this dangerous drug.

Get treatment for addiction to flakka.

If you or a loved one is addicted to flakka, you should seek immediate help. Flakka is dangerous and could lead to violent aggression, suicidal thoughts, paranoia, arrest, or death. Treatment professionals can help you or your loved one recover from flakka and begin the road to recovery and freedom.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Long Island Treatment Center

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