Healthy Living

Flakka: A Gravel Guised Fatal Drug

Flakka: A Gravel Guised Fatal Drug

Flakka, an addictive drug that looks similarly to gravel is considered to be closely related with the synthetic cathinone. The drug is known to cause long-lasting damage to the brain cells and can alter the brain's chemistry in such a way that users can lose touch with reality. Having manufactured in China, the drug has entered the USA a few years ago. The consumption has burgeoned after 2013 causing dire results in Florida. Until now, the midwest provinces of the country are seen to be highly affected by the impact of flakka abuse.

Why is it called a "zombie drug"?

This drug causes an altered mental state with psychotic and agitated behavior in people. After taking flakka, cannibalism and bizarre attacks by the users have been reported. Unfortunately, after frequent use of flakka, users tend to get super strength with extreme paranoia and delusions. For this reason, it has been considered as a devastating drug as it attacks the central nervous system of the body. Due to these facts, it has been called as a "zombie drug" as the person taking it gets unaware about the reality and starts showing abnormal violent behavior.

Due to flakka's detrimental effects, the drug is banned in several countries such as Germany, France, United Kingdom, Sweden, and Ireland.

What constitutes flakka?

Flakka similarly looks like gravel that we usually see at the bottom of aquariums. The drug consists of a synthetic stimulant called as alpha-PVP. Its composition was created in the late 60s and the Drug Policy Alliance classified it as a 2nd generation bath salt, which contains the main chemical compound called cathinone. It shares a physical resemblance with cathinone, an alkaloid generally found in the shrub called Catha edulis. This shrub is mainly cultivated in the Middle East and Somalia. It is generally taken by people to experience euphoria. Flakka has been considered as a cheap alternative to cocaine but is more dangerous and with more chances of developing harmful side effects.

How marketable is flakka?

Flakka imitates the functions of cocaine and methamphetamine. People who cannot afford cocaine look for a cheaper alternative. It is the reason why flakka has become so popular among teenagers and adults. Moreover, sellers of the drug market it to low-income population since flakka is quite affordable. One can get it at a price of 5 dollars. Thus, getting the drug in bulk gets easier. The purpose of getting high is achieved at a low price and the drug's powerful effects are long-lasting. Furthermore, a lot of people often consider flakka as safe and not as dangerous as cocaine.

Flakka availability

Flakka generally comes in the form of pink or white crystalline rocks similar to bath salts. Its availability is common on online shopping websites where it is being sold under various brand names such as "Cloud Nine", "Vanilla Sky", Lunar Wave", etc.

One can take this drug in the form of tablets, injections, and inhalers. Flakka can also be vaporized, thereby making it possible for e-cigarette and vape use. Flakka users can conceal taking the drug in public by using vaporizing devices. Vaporizing flakka can directly get into the bloodstream making the hit to quickly effect, and makes the user at higher risk of drug overdose. The drug can cause an "excited delirium" due to chemical imbalances in the brain, particularly causing high levels of dopamine and serotonin.


Pharmacological action of flakka

The key ingredient of flakka, which is alpha-PVP, alters the activity of two major proteins of the central nervous system: dopamine and norepinephrine transporters. They help in channeling the neurotransmitter molecules out of the synapse and back into the neuron. Their location is confined to the synaptic terminals of neurons.

After the consumption of flakka, the uptake of these neurotransmitters takes a nosedive. In such cases, the quantity of both the neurotransmitters gets piled up, potentially leading to a state of hyperactivity.

Is flakka dangerous?

Like any other illegal drug, flakka also have harmful side effects. When flakka is abused, the side effects can prove to be life-threatening. After taking this drug, one gets an increase in body temperature up to 104 degrees, which can have some serious repercussions. At the beginning, the drug can cause an uncontrollable behavior. It can also cause the breakdown of muscles and kidney failure leading to death. Elevated blood pressure resulting in cardiac arrests, aneurysms, along with organ failure have also been observed in cases of flakka abuse.

What are the short-term effects of flakka?

Since flakka is a powerful stimulant, its consumption leads to a thunderstorm of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter being known for regulating the pleasure centers of the brain. Moreover, the drug blocks the reuptake of dopamine, which results in having a prolonged vivid feeling of euphoria. Having it intravenously can cause direct effects leading to overdosage. Taking the drug includes several short side effects such as:

  • Elevation in pulse rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Thoracic pain
  • Comparative rise in blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Euphoria
  • Attentiveness
  • Antagonistic behavior
  • Involuntary muscle movements
  • Paranoia
  • Increased libido
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased strength
  • Hyperstimulation

After the completion of the pharmacological action of this drug, symptoms of withdrawal tend to occur such as depression, panic attacks, and fatigue. In order to get rid of such symptoms, the user takes one hit after another. With each and every hit, tolerance to the drug starts getting higher, making the user at higher risk of the drug's fatal side effects.

What are the long-term effects of flakka?

Because this drug is still new, its long-term side effects have not been established in detail yet. Research is still ongoing regarding the drug's effects in the body, especially in the central nervous system. However, some cases have shown long-term effects in the following body organs:

  1. Muscles - When users are restrained during a state of excited delirium, they struggle to free themselves causing an increase in their body temperature or hyperthermia. In this stage, a combined elevated body temperature and muscle overactivity can trigger metabolic problems in the body. Rhabdomyolysis or the destruction of the skeletal muscle can occur when the muscle tissues break down and release certain proteins and other cellular components into the bloodstream.
  2. Kidneys - High blood pressure can cause kidney failure. However, in cases where the kidneys are not properly functioning, the condition gets worse, leading to kidney failure. This condition is often seen in patients who are suffering from flakka addiction.
  3. Heart - Due to hypertension, users are at a higher risk of a heart attack, aneurysm, or cardiac arrest after taking the drug.

Other long-term side effects include:

  • Epileptic seizures
  • Liver and lung damage
  • Stomach pain
  • Dyspnea
  • Death caused by suicidal attempts

Mental and physical dependence

Psychological and physical dependence are commonly seen in cases of flakka abuse. Regular users of flakka can suffer from drug dependence to achieve the same euphoric effects. They are also forced to take the drug to minimize the withdrawal symptoms associated with it.

Various withdrawal symptoms of flakka

The following are the usual withdrawal symptoms of flakka:

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Fluctuations in moods
  • Delusions
  • Lack of sleep
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Fatigue
  • Psychosis

The duration of these symptoms may vary for all users. The symptoms usually depend on the following factors:

  • Flakka dosage
  • The duration of flakka abuse
  • Underlying medical conditions
  • Age and genetics

Prevalence in Florida

Florida is quite popular for its fascinating beaches, convenient shopping, and partying. In Florida, such drugs are knowingly abused and are considered as party boosters. In the previous years, the limelight was taken by cocaine and other addictive drugs. Nowadays, the attention has shifted to the new drug flakka, which has taken Florida in a blink of an eye.

Flakka has also gained popularity because of the unpredictability it brings, especially in the behavior of its users. Furthermore, the drug is easily accessible with an affordable price. Most users feel much higher after ingesting flakka compared with other drugs. 

Stats showing flakka consumption

According to a survey conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), there has been a significant rise in the number of flakka cases in the past three years. Reportedly, in 2012, there were more than 80 flakka cases, and by the end of 2014, the number surpassed 650.

The benefits of quitting flakka

Quitting flakka is considered as a good initiative. It involves the following benefits:

1) Better health

As the drug is associated with several health hazards, quitting it can prevent kidney, liver and cardiac diseases. It can also relieve anxiety and other psychological symptoms associated with the drug.

2) Reconstruction of relationships

People who indulge in flakka abuse display an uncontrollable and violent behavior. Some can also ruin their relationship with their family and friends. Getting involved in criminal activities is also seen among flakka users. Quitting can help the person take back his or her life and can heal both social and personal relationships.

3) More leisure time

People who are addicted to flakka spend most of their time either getting the drug or consuming it. For this reason, these people get lesser time for pursuing the hobbies that they used to enjoy. By quitting, they can also spend more valuable time with themselves and their loved ones.

Guidelines for quitting flakka

To quit flakka, having a strong determination along with a great support system are needed. The following tips can help increase one's chances of staying sober:

1) Have a support system

Try reaching out to a few people whom you trust, especially those who will support you without being judgmental. Without the much-needed support, you may relapse at some point in your recovery.

2) Get to know your triggers

Take note of the things that may trigger a relapse. Some of the common triggers include the areas where you went to obtain the drug, your friends or people whom you shared moments with using flakka, and other inevitable stressful conditions.

3) Treatment

Get treated and ask somebody from your support group if they have any treatment recommendations for flakka.

4) Make a commitment to recovery

Give your best to stay focused on your goal to be free from drug abuse and its detrimental side effects. Understand the reasons why you took drugs in the first place, and be aware of the things that can trigger your addiction to avoid a relapse.

5) Necessity of aftercare

Aftercare can increase your chances to full recovery since it offers support and a place where you can openly discuss anything about your road to recovery. After treatment, recovery can be quite challenging knowing that you are on your own without strict supervision and without flakka. Joining a support group and having a therapist can greatly help you stay on track.


Synthetic substances such as flakka wreaked havoc on the streets and hospitals. Most reported cases of flakka are in South Florida, describing users with uncontrolled and psychotic behaviors. Even after treatment, flakka users tend to have a difficulty in returning back to their normal functioning. Taking flakka greatly affects a person’s mental state even just from one hit.

Flakka cannot be detected through urine drug tests, unlike other drugs. To identify flakka, gas chromatography and mass spectrometry are used in select laboratories.  

If flakka abuse is left untreated, life-threatening complications may occur. Unless the import of synthetic substances is stopped, this drug epidemic is most likely to persist.