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Flakka is a man-made drug that is part of a wider class of drugs called synthetic cathinones. The chemical name is alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone, or alpha-PVP, began appearing on the streets in late 2014 and 2015, when emergency rooms began admitting patients with a grouping of severe symptoms such as agitation, aggression, paranoia, delusions, violent behavior and psychosis. Flakka is the street name for this synthetic cathinone and it is chemically similar to other synthetic drugs known as “Bath Salts.” It is often used as alternatives to cannabis products when individuals can’t purchase these drugs because they do not have a prescription, are under the age of 18, or live somewhere that cannabis products aren’t legally available.

What to Know About Flakka

Phenethylamines are hallucinogenic stimulants, such as amphetamines and ecstasy, or MDMA. Flakka and other synthetic cathinones are phenethylamines that are more commonly available for illegal purchase than MDMA and amphetamines. They are synthetic forms of khat, a substance derived from the leaves of a flowering plant native to Africa and the Middle East. It has been used for centuries as a recreational drug in African and Middle Eastern countries, where people chew the leaves for a stimulant effect. However, the drug is highly regulated and deemed illegal by most governments around the world because it has such harmful long-term effects.

Flakka, a synthetic form of khat, has become very popular with high school aged individuals and teenagers1 It was first discovered in 1963 and was patented in 1967 as a Central Nervous System Stimulant for treating ADHD or narcolepsy. It was classified as a Schedule I narcotic in the U.S. after it became available in pill and tablet form in 2014. This means that the government determined that it has no valuable medicinal properties and a high risk of abuse. It cannot be legally purchased in the United States. The designer drug is made to replicate drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and LSD. Other synthetic cathinones include Mephedrone, Methylone, Methcathinone, Bupropion and Buphedrone.

Flakka is named after the Spanish slang for skinny woman – “la flaca.” This is probably because of its appetite suppressant effects. It comes in the form of white or pink crystals, and can be smoked, vaped with an e-cigarette, injected, snorted or swallowed. No matter how a person administers flakka, there is a high risk of overdose. Vaping has an especially high potential for overdose because there is no way to measure how much flakka a person is ingesting. Inhaling the drug in liquid form allows it to enter the bloodstream too quickly and can easily overwhelm the body and brain.

Flakka is often found mixed into other drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and other opiates. Because of this, many people have unknowingly tried flakka, which is why it is important to avoid the dangers of street drugs altogether. There is not much research uet on the effects of combining overdose and flakka, but it is always dangerous to mix drugs and there have been reports of the mixtures leading to overdose and death. Flakka used alone has caused many fatalities as well, including suicide and myocardial infarction.

Flakka is thought to be mostly manufactured in countries like China and Pakistan, but it’s also possible that local laboratories in Florida and other states were producing it. It is not regulated, so there aren’t any restrictions on what ingredients are used to make it and no reputable source to inspect it, which makes it exceedingly dangerous. Sometimes a substance sold as flakka will have completely different ingredients in it as another substance sold under the same name. Users have no idea what they are actually ingesting, which makes it incredibly hard to predict the effects or the harm of the drug.

Flakka Versus Bath Salts

Flakka has a very similar chemical composition to bath salts, and the two have the same effects on users. The active ingredient in bath salts is methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV, which differs slightly from what flakka contains. The potential for addiction and abuse is very high with both substances, but flakka tends to be more potent.

Bath salts are usually found in white or brown crystals or powder sold in small packages. Many illegal manufacturers sell the drug under names that sound like household products, like plant care materials or household cleaning solutions. They are both psychostimulants, mind-altering substances that have both hallucinogenic and stimulant effects. Flakka is under the umbrella term of “bath salts,” and it and other synthetic cathinones typically have mephedrone, methylone or MDPV in the mixture.

Effects of Flakka

Using flakka can elicit highly unusual episodes of profound mental illness. These can include wild hallucinations and terrifying delusions. It is a euphoric stimulant and has a short-acting duration of physical and psychological effects similar to other stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines.

Flakka’s initial effects after consumption include feelings of euphoria, hyper-focus, stimulation, increased sex drive, loss of inhibitions, elevated mood, diminished appetite and sociability. These effects can be pleasing at first, leading the user to believe the drug might be harmless. However, when the high wears off, users will need to take more and more of the drug to achieve the same effects; this can lead to negative side effects. Flakka is extremely dangerous and has caused users to commit suicide and violent acts toward others.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that flakka use, even if it’s the first time, can cause “excited delirium.” This is a bizarre condition that involves hyperstimulation, hallucinations, a sense of increased strength and paranoia. When a user is experiencing these effects, it can lead to paranoia and violent aggression or even cause a psychotic episode. Flakka also has harmful physical effects, including raising body temperature up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, a condition known as hyperthermia, as well as vasoconstriction, increased perspiration, dehydration, tremors, spasms and respiratory distress. In some cases, it can cause acute liver and renal failure, hypertension, narrowing of the blood vessels, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, stroke, aneurysm and death.

Bath salts have many of the same effects as flakka, including increased sex drive, euphoria, hallucinations, anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia and increased sociability. Smoking, vaping, snorting, injecting or swallowing bath salts can cause immediate overdose and death.

Individuals can display vastly different symptoms after ingesting flakka. Delirium can present as paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, hyperactivity, apathy, depressive behavior, lethargy or other effects. When experiencing delirium on flakka, users might feel severe disorientation, not understand where they are, what day or time it is, etc. They are likely to lose rational thinking and rational behavior, which can lead to some of the bizarre and violent acts reported by users in the media. Any substance that causes this degree of hyperactive delirium becomes a danger to themselves or others. Alternatively, users could experience hypoactive delirium, which causes them to underreact to possible signs of physical distress or environmental dangers. These outcomes can depend on the amount of the drug taken and the user’s individual metabolic balance.

Excited delirium can put stress on the body. The struggle and agitation can lead to high core body temperature, known as hyperthermia, and extreme struggle can lead to metabolic problems in the body. In severe cases, muscle tissue starts to break down, and proteins are flooded into the bloodstream. This induces a process called rhabdomyolysis, which can lead to kidney failure because the organ cannot process so much waste.

In some cases of delusion, individuals experience typical paranoid thinking where a person is suspicious of the activity of others and is convinced they are being pursued by a group or organization that wants to kill them. This causes a threat both to the patient themselves and to the medical responders or police who are dealing with them. Delirium like this is often treated with sedatives and tranquilizers to make the patient calmer.

Flakka use can cause significant brain damage from experiencing extended periods of delirium. This damage can be widespread and permanent. People can also end up having seizures, losing oxygen to the brain, having swelling of the brain or having a stroke. These potential outcomes can cause brain damage. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported ER visits and calls from people using synthetic cathinones were on the rise between 2009 and 2012, but the use has dropped since then. Government officials on a local and national level have helped to monitor and regulate the illegal sales of the drug, also helping to cause a decline in use. However, the drug still presents a significant risk to those taking it and those present with someone under the influence.

The following signs are ways to identify if someone you know or encounter might be high on flakka:

  • Extra talkative and sociable
  • Exhibiting pressured speech
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tremors or jitteriness, shaking, twitching
  • Sweating, flushing, etc.
  • Acting delirious or grandiose
  • Paranoid
  • Suddenly acting psychotic without a previous history of this kind of symptom
  • Seizure-like movements
  • Lethargic, comatose, depressed, apathetic, immobile, etc.

Is Flakka Addictive?

Now that we’ve answered the question “What is the drug flakka?”, readers might be wondering whether it is addictive. The answer is yes. Even though flakka use has so many negative consequences, many people continue to put themselves at risk of using the drug and experience many adverse consequences, including addiction. The drug is very affordable, especially compared to amphetamines, heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy, so it is appealing to populations that can’t afford expensive drugs. And the high is long and intense, typically lasting up to five hours compared to cocaine, which lasts only 30 minutes.

Becoming addicted is also an enormous risk because the ingredients are so unpredictable. Many of them are not fit for human consumption. And even the known ingredients cause terribly adverse effects.

All synthetic cathinones are addictive. Chronic use of flakka leads to compulsive cravings and increased tolerance. Usually, as the addiction lengthens, so does the severity of symptoms. A person with Flakka addiction may exhibit physical symptoms like increased heart rate, loss of muscle fiber, uncontrolled muscle spasms and other physical problems. Psychological symptoms include paranoia, delusions, poor judgement, disorientation and more. It can also cause mood swings, unpredictable behavior and aggression.

If you are concerned that someone you know is addicted to flakka, you might observe the following signs as well:

  • Compulsive lying. Individuals addicted to flakka, like many addicts, might begin to lie to others. This is to keep up an appearance of normalcy and to hide their addiction.
  • Apathy. Anyone battling a drug addiction is subject to extreme apathy. This might include losing interest in things they used to enjoy.
  • Isolation. Addiction also causes people to isolate from others in order to hide their habit. A person might stop spending time with friends and family.
  • Financial trouble. People with a drug addiction often suffer from financial trouble. They could have issues keeping their job and need to borrow money from friends and family.
  • Legal trouble. Those engaged in illegal drug use might run into issues with law enforcement, such as theft, possession, DUIs and so on.

Flakka can also cause extreme withdrawal symptoms. These are usually worse when the person has been using the drug for a prolonged period. It is also worse if a person tries to stop use abruptly or without the help of a treatment center. Withdrawal symptoms are a combination of physical, emotional, and behavioral issues, including the following:

  • Uncomfortable crash
  • Extreme depression, apathy, suicidal thoughts and so on
  • Severe cravings
  • Panic attacks or anxiety
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Tremors
  • Night sweats
  • Irritability
  • Increased sweating
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack
  • Abdominal pain
  • Liver complications

There are no specific treatment medications that address flakka withdrawal directly, but many benzodiazepines can help keep a person stable if administered under professional supervision. The cumulative side effects of flakka abuse and intoxication can sometimes warrant medically supervised detox to ensure a safe recovery. In this case, it is essential that you contact a reputable treatment center like Windward Way Recovery to assist you in the process.

There is not enough research on flakka to understand how long withdrawal lasts, but it cannot be an easy thing to endure.

Benefits of Quitting Flakka

Quitting flakka can be the best thing a person can do for their lives. With the right help from Windward Way Recovery, a person can stop using harmful, toxic substances and regain complete control of their lives. There are so many benefits to ending a flakka addiction, including:

  • Improved health. Ending a flakka addiction has tremendous benefits for your health. Flakka is a harmful substance that wreaks havoc on all your major bodily organs. When you quit, it reduces the chance of having liver or kidney failure. It removes the possibility of damaging the brain or the heart muscle. It can help lower blood pressure and heart rate. And it can also remove the chances or overdose and death from flakka use.
  • Enhanced well-being. In addition to improved physical health, you will also experience better psychological health after quitting flakka. Stopping use will reduce your chances or having prolonged anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. And there won’t be a need to worry about the drug causing psychotic symptoms like paranoia, hallucinations and delirium.
  • More free time. Addiction eats up a lot of free time. A person in active addiction spends an enormous amount of time attempting to seek out and use the drug. Often, it is the only thing a person makes time to do. Even with extra time, those dealing with addiction usually spend less time doing things they enjoy or spending time with loved ones. Quitting flakka means having more time back to partake in enjoyable activities that feel good and to spend time with loved ones.
  • Better relationships. Drug addiction can destroy good relationships. Those who are using drugs might lie, steal, flake on plans, cause arguments and engage in other behaviors that make their relationships suffer. With the help of a treatment center and a qualified therapist, individuals can start to repair relationships in their lives.

Treatment of Flakka Addiction

Deciding to stop using flakka is the first and most important step in the recovery journey. It is not an easy process, and individuals should never hesitate to ask for help along the way. Here are some tips to aid in your recovery:

  • Ask for help. Without support, individuals are at higher risk of experiencing a relapse at some point. If you don’t feel comfortable asking for help from friends and family, it is helpful to lean on qualified treatment providers and other addicts in recovery. Programs like AA and NA can help you link up with people who can be supportive and non-judgemental.
  • Understand triggers. Certain things in your lifestyle and environment might trigger a sudden urge to use. These can include old friends you used to use with, places you used to get high, life stressors, etc. Know what these are and take measures to avoid them or deal with them in a more healthy way.

Attending a Treatment Center

Attending a professional treatment center like Windward Way Recovery can be the best way to achieve sobriety. When it comes to substances like Flakka, getting professional help is often necessary. It is such a severe drug that stopping without medical supervision can be fatal. A high-quality treatment center can help you or your loved one with medically assisted detox, therapy specializing in substance abuse recovery, and education on substance use and the effects of abuse, addiction, and recovery. It can also provide you with a community of helpful people who can be a part of your recovery journey even after inpatient treatment ends. If you’re ready to start your recovery journey and take control of your life, contact Windward Way Recovery today.

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