Flakka is the street name for the synthetic cathinone alpha-PVP, a designer drug that is chemically similar to bath salts with stimulant and hallucinatory effects that closely resemble those of cocaine and methamphetamine.
However, flakka is considered to be more dangerous than these other substances. It is more potent than bath salts and almost impossible to control the dosage with any degree of precision, as the difference between a high and an overdose is extremely thin and difficult to gauge.
While it quickly became an epidemic, especially in South Florida, flakka use has, fortunately, largely been on the decline since 2015, in part due to China’s ban on the manufacturing of over 100 synthetic drugs, including flakka, which left dealers without a supplier.
Nonetheless, it is still possible to find flakka, and it remains a very real threat due to its combination of near-lethal potency and addictiveness.
How Does Flakka Work?
Much like bath salts, the chemical structure of flakka was not specifically illegal, and it was frequently sold on the Internet, as well as in convenience stores, gas stations, and more. Even today, there are still places where someone can legally purchase substances like bath salts or synthetic marijuana.
Also similar to bath salts, the exact contents of flakka are inconsistent in any given dose, with a wide range of potential, generally toxic, additives. Flakka typically comes in the form of white or pink crystals and can be eaten, snorted, injected, or vaped in an e-cigarette.
Vaping, in particular, is both the most popular and most dangerous method of taking flakka, as vaporizing it gets it into the bloodstream the fastest. Vaping is also the easiest way to overdose on flakka since it is the method with the least amount of dosage control.
Flakka works in much the same way as cocaine, by entering your brain and blocking it from reabsorbing mood-based neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are tied to feelings of pleasure and euphoria, as well as norepinephrine, which affects energy and alertness.
The buildup of these brain chemicals causes them to flood your brain’s synapses and creates the intense feelings of excitement and euphoria and the increase in heart rate that is associated with a stimulant high.
However, unlike the high from cocaine, which typically lasts between thirty minutes to an hour, the effects of flakka usually last for hours, and reportedly, sometimes even days.
What are the Signs of Flakka Addiction?
While the signs of a growing addiction can often be difficult to spot until someone’s problems with substance abuse have become too severe to escape notice, the signs of flakka abuse and potential addiction are usually easier to spot than those of alcohol abuse, for example.
This is, in part, because of the cocaine-like changes in someone’s normal behavior that heavy, regular flakka use can manifest. As someone becomes increasingly reliant on flakka, these abnormalities will become more and more obvious.
Short-Term Behavioral Changes that Point to Flakka Abuse Include:
- Extreme agitation
- Abnormal aggression
- Dilated pupils
- Excessive sweating
- Tics or other repetitive muscle movements
As someone’s dependence progresses to full-blown flakka addiction, all previous priorities in their life, like relationships with friends or family and responsibilities like work or school, will be cast aside. During this period, there are many behavioral ticks that serve as signs of addiction, both specifically for flakka as well as addiction in general.
Some of These Behavioral Signs Include:
- Increased tolerance to the effects of flakka
- Trying to rationalize using flakka
- Hiding flakka use from others
- Noticeable lack of hygiene and carelessness in appearance
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using flakka
- Loss of interest in hobbies and other activities
- Being unable to function or complete basic tasks without using flakka
- Missing money or other valuables to pay for flakka
- Withdrawing socially in favor of flakka use
- A decline in performance at work or in school
- Being unable to stop using flakka even if you want to stop
- Continuing flakka use despite negative consequences like legal problems
If you observe these behaviors in someone you care about or recognize them in yourself, the immediate next step should be finding professional addiction treatment, beginning with medical detoxification to flush the flakka from your system and stop it from causing any more physical or mental damage.
How Dangerous is Flakka Addiction?
Flakka is, as has been highlighted, an extremely dangerous drug. Even a small dose can cause hallucinatory effects and cardiac issues like a heart attack or stroke that is typically associated with stimulant abuse.
Because flakka is such a powerful substance, it is very easy to accidentally overdose, and if someone is not treated in time and given a sedative to calm them down, lower their heartbeat, and settle their nervous system, there is a high risk of death. The symptoms of a flakka overdose are very similar to its side effects, only stronger and more heightened, along with the danger of potentially permanent damage to the brain and major bodily organs. Some of these symptoms include:
- Total psychosis
- Heart attack
- Kidney failure
- Dangerously high fever (typically over 100 degrees)
- Bizarre behavior, often suicidal or homicidal
- Rhabdomyolysis, a breaking down of muscle tissue
As previously mentioned, while flakka use on its own is on the decline, it is still frequently found as an additive in clubs drugs like MDMA, which can lead to dangerous and atypical effects and cause a whole other set of serious negative health consequences.
What is Involved in Flakka Addiction Treatment?
Medical detoxification is always a key part of addiction recovery treatment, but it is especially crucial when it comes to flakka. As previously mentioned, the effects of the drug can linger for extremely long periods of time and take a serious toll on both your body and mind.
Being on flakka makes a person exhibit aggressive, dangerous, and therefore highly likely to harm themselves or others. Because of this, it is imperative that someone addicted to flakka not only undergoes detox to regain both their physical and mental stability but does so under the care and supervision of a medical detox professional in a safe and controlled environment.
After detoxing and flushing the flakka from your system, the next step in flakka addiction treatment is checking into an addiction recovery treatment program. Many recovery treatment facilities make this transition easy by having their detox centers onsite and part of their overall program.
Addiction rehabilitation treatment is key to being able to understand and control the addictive behaviors that led to flakka abuse. Through the use of various treatment modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and more, you will be given the tools to maintain your sobriety long after you have completed treatment.
Flakka Abuse Statistics
- In 2011, there were nearly 23,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. involving bath salts and other psychostimulants, including flakka.
- As of 2012, there have been more than 150 new forms of synthetic cathinones identified.
- Synthetic cathinones like flakka are most commonly used by adults between the ages of 20 and 29.