Flakka, a chemical cousin of “bath salts,” has made its appearance in the last couple of years and is steadily increasing in popularity despite its alarming effects.

Drugs classified as synthetic cathinones and sold as “plant food” or “jewelry cleaner” are not new – but Flakka, a chemical cousin of “bath salts,” has made its appearance in the last couple of years and is steadily increasing in popularity despite its alarming effects.

Users of the stimulant designer drug are reportedly running through the streets naked, screaming, and in a fit of rage. Vivid hallucinations characterize the “high” created by use of Flakka, as is a body temperature that can skyrocket up to 106 degrees. Users who take too much often rip off their clothes, sweat profusely, and freak out, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Jim Hall is an epidemiologist at the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities at Nova Southeastern University in Broward County, Florida. He says: “They strip off their clothes and run outdoors, acting very violent with adrenaline-surged strength. It can take four or more cops to hold them down.”

Though it sounds like a horrific experience, cases of use of Flakka are on the rise. Says Hall: “In all of 2014, Broward County saw about 200 crime lab cases of alpha-PVP [Flakka samples]. In the first three months of 2015, we’ve seen over 300 cases.”


Alpha-PVP, or Flakka, is a Schedule I substance, which means that is banned for any use, including medical use, in the US by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This hasn’t stopped dealers from making the drug available on the black market. It’s also called “gravel” in some parts of the country and sold as a white or pink crystal/rock substance that smells “foul,” according to Hall.

Users usually snort or smoke the crystals, often in an e-cigarette, or dissolve the crystals in water and inject the solution in order to experience its effects. At low doses (about a tenth of a gram), Flakka is a strong stimulant, but at high doses, the drug can cause strange and violent behavior. Unfortunately, users often inadvertently take more than the tiny amount that constitutes a low dose of the drug and end up experiencing:

  • Agitation
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Extreme anxiety and paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis

Users of Flakka risk experiencing a heart attack or stroke due to the rapid heart rate caused by the substance. Additionally, the drug can cause the breakdown of muscle tissue and kidney failure, even after short-term use.

So-Called ‘Designer’ Drugs

Flakka isn’t the only new substance to hit the streets in the past couple of years, marketed to users as a designer substance. The term seems to insinuate that it is somehow trendy, recreational fun, and somewhat safe, but in reality, new drugs on the market may be just as dangerous – or more so – than better-known drugs like heroin or cocaine, but there hasn’t been time to do the research in order to secure the specific data necessary to educate users on the potential effects.

For example, Molly, a version of MDMA or Ecstasy, was marketed to health-conscious, young professionals as a designer drug that was a pure form of Ecstasy and therefore relatively harmless. The fact is, however, that Molly is almost never near its pure form by the time it gets to the end user, and thousands of people have landed in the emergency room, developed addictions, and died from using the drug.

In some cases, new versions of synthetic cathinones or synthetic marijuana are developed that are technically outside the federal laws banning these substances due to the specifics of their chemical makeup. Sold online and in head shops, these drugs are easily accessible to those who are interested in using them recreationally. Unfortunately, users often mistakenly believe that the legal status of these substances is an indication that they are safe. Believing that the FDA or another regulatory government agency requires the products to be tested and approved for use prior to being made available to the public, they use them without moderation – and often end up in the emergency room.

The fact is that it takes time for regulatory agencies to ban a new substance – and even then, it sometimes takes time to pull all the now illegal drugs from store shelves. It’s not easy to tell what is legal and what isn’t when it all looks the same and is sold in the same packaging. Storeowners and law enforcement aren’t always necessarily sure whether or not they are looking at an item that is technically legal when they see it, nor can they know the components of the product. If it’s impossible to know what is in a substance for sure, then it is no safer than the unmarked baggies of heroin and cocaine sold on the street.

Addiction and Treatment

No matter what the drug of choice is, there are a number of treatment services available that can help people in overcoming substance abuse. Legal or not, the dangers of continued drug and alcohol abuse are many – and with a drug like Flakka, deadly health problems can begin sooner rather than later.

If you are experiencing problems in your life related to drug or alcohol abuse, and you are unable to stop using, treatment may be your best choice. Some common issues include:

If substance abuse is a problem for you, waiting will only make things worse. Instead, explore your choices in medical detox and addiction treatment.  Take action today.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.