Flakka is the street name for a specific variation of the class of synthetic hallucinatory psychoactive stimulants known as bath salts. Flakka works in a way that’s similar to many amphetamines but has been found to be at least 10 times more potent than cocaine.
During the height of the flakka epidemic in South Florida, it was also frequently referred to as the “zombie drug” because of the bizarre, violent, psychotic behavior it often manifested in users.
Part of what makes flakka so dangerous, apart from its effects, is that it was manufactured as a way to avoid drug laws and restrictions by using synthetic substances just chemically different enough not to be illegal. This means that the exact chemical composition, along with the strength and potential effects of flakka, is going to vary wildly from batch to batch.
There is still so much we don’t know about flakka, especially in terms of how long the drug can stay in your system, how long withdrawal lasts, and what symptoms someone can expect during flakka detox. In many cases, there is only anecdotal evidence available.
Predicting how someone is going to experience withdrawal when they detox from a particular substance is already difficult because of the many unique factors that vary from person to person. But flakka makes this process even more unpredictable, because much is unknown.
The question of how long flakka remains in your system and will show up on a drug test is a complicated one, as is typically the case with synthetic substances like bath salts. For the first question, how long it will remain in someone’s system, this depends on a wide range of factors that are going to be different for every individual, including:
It doesn’t help that it is almost impossible to accurately gauge the purity or potency of a given dose of flakka. The means by which someone has taken flakka also has an impact, as flakka that has been snorted or eaten is going to remain in their system longer than if they had injected or smoked it.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the most common drug tests are:
Tests for drug metabolites in the urine that remain for up to several day.
Tests for drugs currently in someone’s system within a few hours of using
Gives a full account of substance use for up to 90 days, not including current levels
Drug testing usually occurs in two parts. First, a sample is screened for a range of commonly abused substances, including cocaine, marijuana, opioids, amphetamines, and phencyclidine (more widely known as PCP).
If the sample tests positive, then it is subjected to the second stage of testing where a more specific, finely tuned analysis is used. Unfortunately, synthetic cathinones are not looked for in most standard first stage drug screening, and therefore go undetected and do not get to the second stage.
This is a major reason why many people are drawn to using flakka or just bath salts, in general. There are hundreds of chemical variations of bath salts, making detection well outside the scope of a standard test.
However, it has recently become more common for drug-testing laboratories to offer specialized synthetic cathinone drug-testing for bath salts like flakka, including both liquid and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.
Currently, the synthetic cathinone found in flakka, alpha-PVP, can be detected in a specialized urine drug test within a 24- to 72-hour window after use.
As previously mentioned, there is still so much about flakka that remains unknown, in large part due to the fact its chemical composition varies significantly. While flakka does contain the synthetic cathinone alpha-PVP, the rest of the molecular structure of a given sample of flakka could have all kinds of potentially toxic different substances and additives.
Because of this, even though it works on the brain similarly to stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, flakka withdrawal can present a wide range of symptoms that are atypical to those usually associated with stimulant withdrawal. With that in mind, the most consistent symptoms associated with flakka withdrawal include:
Violent, suicidal, or self-harming behaviors are also frequently cited as a common early stage withdrawal symptoms as flakka begins to leave a person’s system.
This is by no means a full account of the possible symptoms someone can expect to experience during flakka withdrawal, which only serves to highlight the importance of detoxing from flakka in the care of a professional detox treatment center.
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Much like its withdrawal symptoms, there is a substantial lack of information available on the exact stages and timeline associated with flakka withdrawal. Establishing a general standard is already difficult due to their unstable composition.
Even when using the general withdrawal timeline for amphetamines, there are still various factors that are unique to a given individual that will shape their withdrawal timeline, including:
Based on anecdotal observations and limited study, someone may begin experiencing the symptoms of flakka withdrawal within roughly 12 to 24 hours after their last use, although sometimes the high from a particularly potent dose of flakka can last even longer than that.
Symptoms will strengthen and peak generally in the first few days, after which they will slowly weaken and be gone after about a week. However, because of the intense psychological damage flakka can cause, symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and even psychosis can last much longer.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, February). Synthetic Cathinones. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cathinones-bath-salts
Prosser, J. M., & Nelson, L. S. (2011, November 23). The Toxicology of Bath Salts: A Review of Synthetic Cathinones. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13181-011-0193-z
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015, October 22). Drug Testing. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/resources/drug-testing