What Is Flakka?

Flakka is a synthetic cathinone similar to the synthetic street drug bath salts, but stronger. Its scientific name is alpha-PVP. Taking the highly addictive drug can result in disorientation, severe hallucinations and psychotic behaviors that can lead to death.
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In 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration banned two chemicals used to make the synthetic street drug bath salts. In response, illegal drug manufacturers tweaked their formula. The outcome was a new synthetic stimulant called flakka.

Fast Facts: Flakka

Abuse Potential
Scientific Name
Drug Class
Street Names
How It's Used
Swallowed, Snorted, Smoked, Injected
Side Effects
Extreme Agitation, Hallucinations, Delusions, Disorientation, Violent Behavior
Legal Status
Schedule I

Flakka is the nickname of alpha-PVP, a synthetic cathinone derived from the African khat plant. The designer drug is chemically similar to 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), an active ingredient in bath salts. Like other illicit stimulants, alpha-PVP can be life-threatening.

From 2013 to 2015, flakka use became an epidemic in poor neighborhoods in South Florida. People high on the synthetic cathinone began acting erratically — exhibiting bizarre behaviors and becoming uncontrollably volatile. This led to a number of emergency department visits, overdoses and deaths.

Although alpha-PVP use in that area has largely subsided, the dangerous drug continues to harm people in other regions of the United States. It can damage a person’s physical and psychological health. People addicted to the stimulant should seek treatment immediately.

Is Flakka Addictive?

Flakka is a highly addictive substance. Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute found that the potency and addictiveness of alpha-PVP is similar to that of bath salts.

Continued flakka use can induce cravings. It can cause compulsive drug-seeking behavior even when people know the health, social and legal consequences of their actions. When taken in high doses, alpha-PVP can result in overdose.

The DEA classifies flakka as a Schedule I substance, making it illegal in the United States. Schedule I drugs have no acceptable medical purposes and a high potential for abuse.

What Does Flakka Look Like?

Flakka resembles white or pink gravel, salt or grains of sand. This foul-smelling drug also comes in powder form. It can be smoked in a joint or e-cigarette, injected or compressed into capsules and swallowed.

When vaporized, alpha-PVP quickly enters the bloodstream, and its effects are felt more rapidly. However, this method of administration makes overdose more likely.

Effects of Flakka

Alpha-PVP produces a rush of dopamine in the brain, causing an intense high similar to that of cocaine and methamphetamine. Flakka enhances energy, alertness and mood. But it can also cause agitated delirium and sometimes results in psychiatric hospitalization.

The effects of flakka can include:

  • Profuse sweating
  • Disorientation
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme agitation
  • Delusions
  • Panic attacks
  • Severe hallucinations
  • Slurred speech
  • High body temperature

These effects occur five to 15 minutes after ingestion. They last between two and five hours, which is similar to the duration of the effects of effects of bath salts.

Flakka is sometimes referred to as the “zombie drug.” Individuals high on alpha-PVP may experience an altered mental state that induces psychosis. The synthetic substance can also produce unusual physical strength. In some situations, multiple police officers may be needed to subdue someone intoxicated on flakka.

The stimulant can even produce psychological problems in those with no history of mental illness. A 2016 study published in the journal Case Reports in Psychiatry indicated that a teen girl with no past psychiatric diagnosis experienced psychotic episodes after taking flakka.

Flakka has been added to other illicit drugs as well. Many street dealers sell cocaine or crystal meth laced with flakka. But mixing flakka with other drugs can exacerbate its effects and lead to overdose or death.

Managing Flakka Intoxication and Addiction

If someone exhibits bizarre or harmful behaviors resulting from flakka use, call 911 immediately. Do not engage the individual because he or she may become violent. The person likely will be treated at a psychiatric hospital.

Benzodiazepines may be used to calm the individual, and antipsychotics such as olanzapine might help alleviate symptoms of drug-induced psychosis. But no medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat alpha-PVP abuse.

After symptoms of flakka have subsided, the patient is discharged.

People addicted to flakka should seek professional treatment. Rehab offers evidence-based therapies that can help clients learn the underlying causes of their substance abuse problems. Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy can teach patients how to overcome triggers and cravings.

To learn more about flakka and other synthetic cathinones, call your local poison control center at 800-222-1222. A representative can provide you with information on the dangers of alpha-PVP and how to assist someone who is high on the synthetic cathinone.

Medical Disclaimer: DrugRehab.com aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Matt Gonzales
Content Writer, DrugRehab.com
Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for DrugRehab.com. He graduated with a degree in journalism from East Carolina University and began his professional writing career in 2011. Matt covers the latest drug trends and shares inspirational stories of people who have overcome addiction. Certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in health literacy, Matt leverages his experience in addiction research to provide hope to those struggling with substance use disorders.

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