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Flakka vs. Bath Salts: What Are the Differences?

While not mentioned as frequently today, it was just a few years ago that the nation was in a panic over the so-called “zombie drug,” flakka, that induced violent, psychotic behavior in its users. Even more worrisome was that, at the time, flakka could be purchased legally, because it contained chemicals that hadn’t even been classified by law enforcement, let alone banned.

And even though flakka specifically is no longer in the public eye, it and other bath salts continue to pose a significant danger, as many other variations of these synthetic, hallucinatory psychostimulants are still for sale throughout the country. 

Bath salts have been found to be at least 10 times more potent than cocaine, with many news outlets claiming flakka was even stronger than bath salts. Both substances are extremely harmful, and using either is putting yourself at risk for not only addiction but also overdose. 

What Are Bath Salts?

“Bath salts” is a term that could technically be applied to any type of synthetic designer drug with a chemical composition that puts it in a legal gray area. However, it is most commonly used to refer to synthetic cathinones, which are substances that act similarly to stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine.

The idea behind these synthetic drugs is to create a substance that is comparable to designer drugs like MDMA (ecstasy) but also cheaper and easier to make, as well as chemically different enough that it is not subject to the usual laws and restrictions surrounding other drugs. 

This allows bath salts to be purchased legally on the internet, as well as in head shops, gas stations, and even some convenience stores. However, it still cannot be sold as drugs, and so it is labeled “not for human consumption” and packaged as plant food, jewelry cleaner, research chemicals, and, of course, bath salts.  

For drug manufacturers to continue to exploit this loophole, they have to continuously alter the chemical structure of these substances, which is part of what makes bath salts so dangerous. In any given dose of bath salts, you can never be sure of exactly what you’re taking or how potent it’s going to be. 

The most common cathinone found in bath salts is methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), and it works in much the same way as most other amphetamines, raising the levels of “feel-good” brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. It also creates an excess of neurotransmitters called norephedrine, which is tied to energy and alertness. 

Like many stimulants, MDPV is also what’s known as a “reuptake inhibitor,” which means that it blocks these brain chemicals from being reabsorbed and recycled for future use, so their effects are stronger and last longer, continuously binding to receptors in the brain.

What Is Flakka?

man rubbing eyes

The difference between flakka and bath salts is that “bath salts” is an umbrella term for designer drugs containing synthetic cathinones, and flakka is a specific variation, the key ingredient of which is a synthetic cathinone called alpha-PVP.

After MDPV was officially banned by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2012, alpha-PVP appeared in what seemed like a sudden epidemic, largely clustered in the South Florida area, which saw 870 criminal cases involving the drug in 2014, as well as 63 flakka-related deaths between 2014 and 2015.

Fortunately, by 2015, flakka use was largely on the decline, and by 2016, it was almost completely gone. This was in part due to China, one of the largest suppliers of synthetic cathinones for U.S. dealers, banning the manufacture of more than 100 kinds of synthetic drugs, including flakka.

Flakka is also referred to as “gravel,” and it is most commonly vaped in an e-cigarette, although it can also be snorted, injected, and eaten.

What Are the Effects of Bath Salts?

Because the chemical composition of bath salts is being modified almost constantly to stay ahead of lawmakers and the DEA, the effects someone will experience when taking a given dose of bath salts can vary wildly. 

It also doesn’t help that there are so many different variations of bath salts, including flakka, each with its own set of side effects and dangers. However, as previously mentioned, the common link between them all is the presence of some kind of synthetic cathinone, usually MDPV.

The effects associated with MDPV use are in many ways consistent with stimulants in general, although there are many atypical effects as well due to the aforementioned lack of consistency in a given dose of bath salts.

The most commonly recorded effects of bath salts include:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased sociability and talkativeness
  • Heightened sensory experiences
  • Increased energy and alertness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Increased sex drive

The list of accompanying, potentially life-threatening side effects often include:

  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Chest pains
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures

They also can happen with more severe, specifically psychological side effects, such as:

  • Aggression
  • Panic attacks
  • Delusions
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Total psychosis

The long-term effects of chronic bath salts abuse can lead to often irreversible damage to your body and mind and include:

  • Kidney damage
  • Liver failure
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Ulcers
  • Anorexia
  • Malnutrition
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle breakdown
  • Increased risk of heart attack or stroke

This by no means is a complete and comprehensive list of the effects of using bath salts, as different combinations will most likely produce atypical effects.   

What Are the Effects of Flakka?

Since flakka technically falls within the broader category of bath salts, there is a good deal of overlap in the effects of flakka on users and those of bath salts in general. The effects of a flakka high are essentially the same as bath salts: feelings of euphoria, increased alertness and hyperactivity, and an elevated heart rate and body temperature. 

Flakka users also will experience an increase in feelings of aggression, paranoia, and confusion. However, as previously mentioned, the dominant ingredient in most versions of flakka that have been seized and analyzed is alpha-PVP, which can manifest several specific side effects, including:

  • Uncontrollable sweating
  • Repetitive, jerking muscle movements
  • Extremely violent, erratic behavior

Like bath salts, long-term use can result in major organ damage, particularly to the kidneys, heart attacks, stroke, a breakdown of muscle tissue, seizures, and psychosis. 

How Do You Know If Someone Is Abusing Bath Salts or Flakka?

The signs of substance abuse can sometimes be difficult to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for. However, when it comes to both flakka specifically and bath salts in general, the bizarre and aggressive behaviors they cause tend to stand out.

Along with these abnormal behaviors, there also are the previously mentioned physical signs of flakka or bath salts abuse, including significant weight loss, suicidal behavior, hyperactivity, and repetitive muscle jerking, to name a few.

Aside from that, there are general behaviors associated with a growing substance use disorder, including:

  • Tolerance to the drug’s effects
  • An inability to stop using or control the amount used
  • Lying about or hiding drug use
  • Money or valuables missing to pay for drugs
  • A decline in school or work performance
  • Prioritizing use over hobbies, relationships, and responsibilities
  • Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn

If you have observed any of these signs of flakka or bath salts abuse, or if you have recognized them in your own behavior, the next step is finding professional addiction treatment

How Is Flakka or Bath Salts Addiction Treated?

To successfully treat addiction to flakka or bath salts, it is vital that you seek medical detox services as soon as possible. Because it is almost impossible to know the potential potency or toxicity in a dose of either substance, it needs to be flushed from your system immediately.

Someone with acute flakka or bath salts intoxication is likely to exhibit violent, fearful, delirious behavior, which makes them a danger to both themselves and those around them. This is why it is so important that someone using bath salts or flakka undergo detox to regain mental and physical stability in the safe and controlled environment of a medical detox center, under the close supervision of an experienced medical detox team. 

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Once detox has been completed, the next treatment step for bath salts or flakka addiction treatment is an addiction recovery program. Addiction rehabilitation can be done on an outpatient or inpatient basis, depending on factors like the severity of your addiction, your physical and mental health, and if you have a history of addiction or relapse.

Ongoing recovery care will help you to both understand and control the addictive behaviors that led to flakka or bath salts dependence. Through treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, group counseling, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and more, you will gain the skills you need to stay sober after completing your treatment. 

Start Your Addiction Treatment Journey Today

If you or someone you care about is battling an addiction to flakka or any other kind of bath salts, do not wait until it’s too late. 

At Pathway to Hope, we can help you fight your way out of addiction and take back your life. Our doctors and staff will provide all of the support, resources, and guidance needed to get you on the path to recovery and keep you on it. 

Take the first steps by calling 844-311-5781 now for 24/7 free and confidential consultations with one of our team of specialists. They can help answer questions, verify insurance, and navigate the process of finding a treatment program that best fits your or your loved one’s needs. 

Call us at 844-311-5781 now or contact us online for more information.

Sources

Drug Policy Alliance. (2016, June). Fact Sheet: Synthetic Cathinones. Retrieved from http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DPA_Fact_Sheet_Synthetic_Cathinones_(June 2016).pdf

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

Drug Enforcement Administration. Diversion Control Division. Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section. 3,4-Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). Retrieved
https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/mdpv.pdf

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