WHAT IS FLAKKA?
It seems that every day some new horrifying drug hits the streets, from so-called zombie drugs that rot flesh to others that cause psychotic behavior. One such drug is alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (Alpha-PVP), often called flakka or gravel. It’s similar to bath salts, as both are synthetics that mimic the effects of an amphetamine-like stimulant called cathinone. Cathinone is found in nature in a plant called khat, which is itself illegal in most of the world. Flakka is a cheap alternative to cocaine, costing three or five dollars a dose, and it appeals to young people in particular because of the euphoric high. It’s mainly sold in Asia, although it’s frequently bought over the internet and shipped to the United States.
Flakka comes in a crystal form and can be eaten, snorted, injected, or vaporized. Studies from the National Institutes of Health have shown that it is as potent as methamphetamine, but with an even higher probability of addiction developing in those who abuse it. It is difficult to determine an exact dose, and because of the strength of the drug, a small amount can be the difference between a high, overdose, and death.
Like other stimulants, it produces a flood of dopamine in the brain, causing an intense sense of euphoria and alertness. It can also cause rapid heart rate and palpitations, increase in blood pressure, and aggressive behavior. As the drug leaves the body, the user will experience fatigue and depression, leading them to use more to combat these effects. As tolerance to the drug increases, so does the risk of overdose and serious medical problems like kidney disease and spikes in body temperature to 105 degrees. Some people who survive flakka overdoses may require dialysis for the rest of their lives.
Not much is known yet about the long-term effects of flakka, but it’s clear that it has a serious impact on the brain. It causes delusions about superhuman strength, paranoia, and hallucinations, which can lead to violent behavior. For example, one man in Florida who was high on flakka attacked an officer, proclaimed himself God and had sexual relations with a tree. When a police officer used a taser to subdue him, the man was able to shake it off and attempt to stab the officer with his own badge. Another man broke down the hurricane-proof doors on a police station. The paranoia frequently takes the form of a feeling that a group of people are chasing the drug user and attempting to kill him, which results in danger for the intoxicated person and any police or first responders who are trying to help him.
In 2014, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency added flakka to its restrictive list of controlled substances, making it easier for the federal government to prosecute sellers of the drug. There are penalties of up to a 10-year sentence.
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