Last updated: December 4, 2023
If you don’t know what flakka is, the fact that it’s known as the “cannibal” or “zombie” drug should give you some insight.
This synthetic drug is known for causing superior strength and inducing extremely violent behavior—as in physically attacking someone out of nowhere and biting them in the face!
In a study released in early 2019, around one percent of teenagers in the United States stated that they have knowingly tried this dangerous drug. Sadly, though, there’s no way to determine how many more have unknowingly used flakka.
Drug dealers often use it to “cut” it into other drugs—such as heroin or cocaine. Dealers make more money because they have more to sell. It also increases the intensity of the user’s high so dealers are more likely to see repeat business.
What is flakka?
Smugglers carry this man-made drug into the United States from China. Flakka is usually white or pink in color and is purchased in crystal form.
It’s known on the street as “gravel.” There’s no specific method used to ingest flakka so users can eat, snort, inject, or vape it.
This synthetic cathinone is a close cousin to the designer drug called “bath salts.” Synthetic cathinones are man-made stimulants. They’re chemically related to cathinone, which is found in the khat plant. A shrub that thrives in Africa and Arabia, people frequently chew the plant’s leaves to experience a euphoric buzz.
Manufacturers intend for flakka to reproduce the effects of the khat plant. They use alpha-PVP to do it. Flakka and bath salts both contain this chemical, however, flakka is notably stronger.
The DEA classified alpha-PVP as a Schedule 1 drug back in 2014.
How flakka affects the body
Alpha-PVP causes a rush of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a hormone that releases a feeling of pleasure. The natural process includes “reuptake.” That means that dopamine goes back to its original transmitting neuron. Flakka blocks the reuptake process and it remains flowing freely through the pleasure center of the brain.
The result is an intense high that compares to cocaine and methamphetamine. Users experience a sense of euphoria, feel extremely energetic, and believe they are more alert.
Users often exhibit bizarre behavior that includes barking like a dog or stripping off their clothes and running naked through the streets. Use also leads to acts of violent aggression and self-injury.
Negative side effects include:
- Excessive sweating
- Extreme agitation
- Panic attacks
- Violent and aggressive behavior
Users begin to experience the effects of the drug in minutes and they typically last for up to five hours. It’s important to note, however, that the side effects can last for several days afterward.
Moreover, someone with no prior history of a mental health disorder can experience psychotic episodes that can lead to psychiatric hospitalization.
When someone comes down from the drug, they often feel fatigued or depressed. This can lead to using more of the drug too soon causing a psychotic reaction or death.
Flakka can induce extraordinary physical strength in the user. In fact, when coupled with the psychotic or bizarre reaction the drug often causes, it can take up to 4 or 5 people—usually police officers—to subdue someone that is impaired.
“Snacking” is a term that refers to using more of the drug while they’re already high on flakka. This practice can bring on serious health risks. They include rapid heart rate, extreme aggression, and psychosis.
Moreover, the body builds up a tolerance to flakka. That means it takes a larger dose to achieve the desired result. Users put themselves at an ever-increasing risk of overdose.
Signs of use
There are a number of signs that someone is suffering from drug addiction.
- Constantly thinking about Flakka
- Spending large amounts of money to buy it
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Taking the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms
- Hiding use
- Inability to function
Someone who is seeking help for an addiction to flakka should undergo a thorough physical and psychological assessment. This ensures that proper detox measures are taken as well as deciding the most effective treatment for the individual.
As with most drug addictions, the first phase of treatment is the detox phase. Withdrawal is often painful or, at best, uncomfortable. Being under medical supervision during the process is best so that symptoms can be monitored and managed.
Treatment can include:
- Cognitive behavior therapy
- 12-step programs
- Holistic therapy—a form of therapy addressing the person as a whole—body, mind, and spirit
- Family therapy
- Individual and group counseling
No zombies allowed
With so many negative consequences associated with the use of this drug, it’s hard to believe that anyone would consider using it.
It’s out there though.
It makes no difference if someone knowingly takes flakka because it’s so inexpensive—a gram of the drug can cost less than $5—or they’re exposed to it unknowingly because it’s been mixed with other drugs, they’re likely to experience negative effects.
That risk grows every time they use it.
It’s important that we continue to educate employees and students about the dangers of drug use. That’s the best way to get our point across.
When faced with the decision of whether or not to use drugs, education allows someone to make an informed decision.
As far as flakka is concerned, taking a chance on turning into a raging lunatic capable of such horrendous acts as spontaneously attacking someone and actually attempting to eat their face…
It seems that would be a no-brainer, for sure.