Flakka is the street name for a powerful synthetic drug that causes intense stimulation and hallucination. It’s closely related to bath salts, a drug that was implicated in several violent and disturbing crimes in 2012 by the media. In some settings, flakka and bath salts are used interchangeably because they are ill-defined and their exact chemical makeup is constantly shifting. Flakka is a synthetic cathinone, which is a chemical that is similar to psychoactive derivatives of the khat plant.
Flakka is also a designer drug, which means the substance was synthesized to be similar to a controlled substance for the purpose of subverting drug laws. In other words, other illicit stimulants like cocaine and meth can be difficult or legally risky to deal, obtain, and use. Designer drugs like flakka are created to mimic the effects of illegal stimulants, but they are easier to trade.
When it first hit the streets, it wasn’t technically illegal to sell flakka because it was an unknown and uncontrolled substance. Still, it’s illegal to sell unregulated recreational drugs for human consumption, so dealers would sell it as other products like plant food. They would mark packages with labels that said, “not for human consumption.” This deceptive practice is often referred to as the gray market. Buying and selling that breaks the spirit of the law without actually breaking any specific legislation.
Flakka use has declined as other drugs have taken its place, and the manufacturing of certain synthetic drugs like flakka was outlawed in China, a chief supplier. Still, it may be possible to get flakka or other synthetic cathinones, and they remain a threat to illicit drug users.
Learn more about flakka, its effects, and how a substance use disorder can be treated.
Flakka is the street name for a stimulant drug called α-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone which is a synthetic cathinone. It can be used as a recreational drug that replaces MDMA (ecstasy), cocaine, or meth. The drug causes an intense stimulant high with feelings of excitement, power, and energy.
Unlike cocaine, however, it commonly causes hallucinations, which can turn into frightening psychedelic experiences referred to as, “bad trips.” In some cases, users can experience extreme symptoms like excited delirium, which is marked by agitation, aggression, and violent behavior.
As a cathinone, flakka works in a way that’s similar to other stimulants like cocaine and meth. It blocks the reuptake of dopamine, a naturally occurring chemical that’s involved in reward and motivation in the brain. Reuptake is a process of recycling the chemical after it’s no longer needed. Flakka blocks this process and allows more dopamine to bind to receptors, activating more powerful effects.
Because flakka affects dopamine, which is closely tied to reward, it’s possible for it to cause addiction and compulsive use. In rat studies, cathinones have shown to cause reinforcement and compulsive, repeated use. However, human users report unpleasant side effects including paranoia, hallucinations, feeling hot, dehydration, and panic. Most people don’t care to repeat flakka use enough to develop dependence or addiction. However, it can be addictive with repeated use. Flakka can also cause physical and cognitive euphoria that may encourage some people to continue using.
As a constantly changing designer drug, it’s difficult to know the appropriate dose of flakka for you to take without causing an overdose. Small differences in the size of the dose and the exact chemical makeup of the drug you are consuming can mean the difference between a stimulant high and a deadly overdose.
Substance use problems can be difficult to notice when they first start, especially if you are worried about someone else. However, addiction is difficult to keep hidden and will most likely start to bleed into other aspects of your life. Flakka is a powerful drug, and it can cause a number of signs and symptoms that you may notice in yourself or others. Flakka use can cause some short-term symptoms like hyperactivity, increased energy, agitation, aggression, dilated pupils, confusion, and paranoia.
As drug use starts to turn into addiction, the addicted person may start to show some other behavioral signs and symptoms, including:
If you’ve recently used cathinones and you’re worried that you might be developing an addiction, there are a few telltale signs. If you’ve become more tolerant of the drug or developed a dependency, your brain may be getting used to the chemical. If you stop using and feel uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like fatigue and depression, you may be chemically dependent. Addiction occurs when you continue using a drug, even after it causes serious consequences. If you feel like you are becoming addicted, then seek help as soon as possible.
Flakka can be considered an extremely dangerous drug. Though the media hype around flakka, bath salts, and other synthetic cathinones has overstated the drug’s ability to turn users into monsters, it does have a number of alarming adverse effects. The paranoia, panic, and aggression can sometimes cause lasting effects. Extremely bad trips and excited delirium can lead to psychosis.
Because it’s powerful and unpredictable, flakka can easily lead to an accidental overdose, even in experienced drug users. Designer drugs may also include a mixture of chemical substances with unknown and possibly dangerous effects. Flakka’s overdose risk is increased when it’s mixed with other drugs, especially other stimulants.
The erratic behavior that is sometimes caused when a person takes flakka can also put you in harm’s way. Hallucinations and stimulation can cause you to get up, move around, and even run, sometimes activating your fight or flight response. This can lead to injuries and accidents, especially behind the wheel of a car.
Flakka addiction is rare, but it is possible. Addiction to cathinones and stimulants can be difficult to overcome on your own, but many people seek treatment and achieve lasting recovery. Addiction treatment involves treating pressing medical issues first and then addressing the deeper roots of addiction. Your medical needs, including any complications that may come from withdrawal, will be addressed in medical detox, which involves 24-hour care from medical professionals.
After detox, you will go through the continuum of care, which involves multiple levels of care depending on your specific needs. In treatment, you will create an addiction plan with the help of your therapist, which can include a variety of therapy options. Behavioral therapies are the most common, especially cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this process, you will learn to cope with stress without drug use, develop a relapse prevention plan, and address any underlying mental health issues.
If you or a loved one has struggled with a substance use disorder involving a synthetic stimulant like flakka, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Each use of unknown designer drugs is a gamble, can lead to medical complications, overdose, or an accident. Substance use disorders, especially addiction, is a difficult disease to overcome, but there is help available. Speak to an addiction treatment specialist to learn more about how addiction can be treated. Call Pathway to Hope at (844) 311-5781 today to hear more about your therapy options.
Alanez, T. (2015, August 11). Broward County leads the nation in flakka cases, DEA statistics show. Retrieved from http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-flakka-broward-epicenter-20150802-story.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, February). Synthetic Cathinones ("Bath Salts"). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cathinones-bath-salts
Storrs, C. (2015, May 26). What is flakka and why is it so dangerous? Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2015/05/26/health/flakka-gravel-illegal-drugs/index.html