The drug flakka (alpha-PVP) is a synthetic cathinone similar to the illicit drug commonly referred to as “bath salts,” only more potent. Using this highly addictive drug can lead to severe disorientation, hallucinations, and psychotic thoughts and behavior, resulting in injury or death.
The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) banned two chemicals in 2012 used to make synthetic bath salts. In response, drug cartels and illegal labs tweaked their formula, and the resulting product a brand new synthetic stimulant that came to be known as “flakka.”
Synthetic cathinones are modeled after chemicals in the khat plant native to Africa and the Arabian peninsula. This designer drug is similar in chemical structure to 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), the psychoactive ingredient in bath salts. Like other illicit stimulants, alpha-PVP can be extremely dangerous and even life-threatening to users and those around him or her.
Flakka in the U.S.
Between 2013-2015, flakka use significantly progressed in usage in low-income neighborhoods in South Florida. People high on synthetic cathinones began acting erratically, exhibiting odd and erratic behaviors, and were unable to control themselves. These effects resulted in many emergency department visits, overdoses, and fatalities.
While flakka in Florida has all but disappeared, this dangerous drug continues to adversely affect people’s lives in other states in the U.S. A recent study (published January 2019 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence) revealed that close to 1% of high school seniors reported using it. This research was the first to examine the prevalence of flakka abuse among adolescents in the U.S.
As such, the continual presence of flakka in the drug market continues to wreak havoc on many users’ physical and mental health. People who find themselves dependent on this or another stimulant are urged to seek professional treatment as soon as possible.
Is the Drug Flakka Addictive?
Flakka is considered to be a highly addictive substance. Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute found that the potency and addictiveness of flakka are comparable to those of bath salts. The repeated use of flakka use can lead to cravings and encourage compulsive drug-seeking behavior among users despite adverse health and social consequences that may be incurred.
The DEA classifies the drug flakka as a Schedule I substance, meaning that it is illegal to use in the U.S., has no legitimate medical purpose, and a relatively high potential for abuse and addiction.
How Does the Drug Flakka Appear?
Flakka closely resembles white or pinkish gravel, salt, sand, or powder. It is reported as being rather foul-smelling and can be smoked in a joint or e-cigarette, administered intravenously, or compressed into capsules and swallowed orally.
Alpha-PVP produces a rush of the feel-good neurochemical dopamine in the brain, resulting in an intense high similar to cocaine or methamphetamine (meth). Flakka use improves energy levels, alertness, and mood, but it can also result in agitated delirium and, in extreme cases, hospitalization.
Other effects of flakka can include the following:
- Profuse sweating
- Extreme agitation
- Panic attacks
- Slurred speech
- Increased body temperature
Like bath salts, these effects manifest within 5-15 minutes after use and can last several hours.
Flakka has oft been referred to as a “zombie drug.” Those who are high on alpha-PVP may experience an altered mental state hallmarked by psychotic symptoms. The use of this substance has also been known to produce extraordinary physical strength—in some instances, several police officers have been needed to restrain a person high on the drug flakka.
This stimulant can also cause psycho-emotional problems in those with no history of a mental health condition. A study published in the journal Case Reports in Psychiatry (2016) discussed a teenage female with no history of psychiatric disorders who experienced psychotic episodes after using flakka.
Getting Treatment for Flakka Abuse and Addiction
If you witness a person exhibiting erratic, bizarre, or harmful behaviors following the use of flakka or other substances, please call 911 immediately. Do not engage with the individual or try to control them because they may become aggressive and violent. The person may need to be treated for psychiatric symptoms at a hospital.
People who are abusing flakka or other intoxicating substances are urged to seek professional treatment as soon as possible. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer evidence-based programs that help those we treat identify the root causes of their substance abuse issues. Modalities such as behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, and mindfulness therapy can teach people how to cope with triggers and cravings and prevent relapse long-term.