Flakka Drug Effects & How to Get Help for Flakka Abuse
Flakka is a dangerous synthetic drug that can cause physical and psychological harm.1 While the substance is still being researched, existing evidence suggests that flakka can produce effects associated with other similar stimulant substances.2,3,4
What is Flakka?
Flakka, also known by the chemical name α-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (or alpha-PVP), is one of many synthetic drugs sometimes referred to, collectively, as designer drugs, novel psychoactive substances, and research chemicals. Many of these new psychoactive compounds—including flakka—are synthetic cathinones.12 Flakka is reportedly also known by the street name “gravel.”4 Synthetic cathinones like flakka have properties that are similar to amphetamines, cocaine, and MDMA.3
Historically, members of the synthetic cathinone group of substances have been broadly referred to as bath salts. Substances grouped into this category include flakka, 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone, and methylone.6 Flakka is a white or pink substance found in crystal form, while other bath salts are often white or brown crystal-like powders.3,5
Flakka works by preventing the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine in your brain.7 Reported flakka side effects include violence, aggression, and self-harm. Symptoms of flakka use can escalate to psychosis (delusions, paranoia) and agitated delirium.7,4 As with other synthetic cathinones, flakka can cause increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and chest pain.3
Synthetic Cathinone Drug Statistics
There aren’t many studies or statistical reports available on flakka use (or abuse) in the U.S. Available evidence regarding flakka drug effects in Americans is also limited.7 However, some historical stats regarding synthetic cathinones such as bath salts are as follows:8,9,10,11
- In 2011, out of 2.5 million visits to hospital ERs that involved drug misuse or abuse, 22,904 visits were related to bath salt use.
- 33% of those visits were related to bath salts alone; 15% involved bath salts combined with marijuana or synthetic marijuana, and 52% involved bath salts in combination with other drugs.
- Bath salts are frequently used at electronic dance music parties (EDMs). One survey showed that 3.5% of EDM attendees in New York City knowingly used bath salts, and around half of those people believed that flakka was more harmful than MDMA.
- One study of evidence from 2017 to 2020 reports that 31 different synthetic cathinones were identified in 75 reported fatalities, either due to using the substance on its own or used with other substances.
- Data from the 2012-2013 Monitoring the Future study showed that 1.1% of high school students used bath salts in the previous year, and use of bath salts was highly related to the use of other substances.
Risks & Dangers of Flakka Use
As mentioned above, synthetic cathinones can be addictive and have dangerous effects including death. Some of the worst health outcomes associated with synthetic cathinones occur when the substance is injected or snorted.3,8 Health risks may be increased when flakka is used in combination with other substances.8
Synthetic cathinones can be addictive and may be associated with an unpleasant withdrawal syndrome. People who try to stop using synthetic cathinones can experience withdrawal symptoms, such as:3
- Difficulty sleeping.
Flakka can result in overdose, and injection use of flakka may increase this risk. Synthetic cathinone overdose risks may also be highest when it is used with other substances, like alcohol.4,6,12 Synthetic cathinone toxicity and can include symptoms such as:6,11
- Extreme agitation.
- Racing pulse.
- Dangerously elevated blood pressure.
- Chest pain.
- Paranoid psychosis.
Flakka Addiction Treatment
If you use flakka, synthetic cathinones, or other addictive drugs and are concerned about your substance use, rehabilitation can help start you on a path to recovery. Rehab options can include:3
- Drug detox. This provides interventions to keep you safe as your body withdraws from the substance.
- Inpatient Rehab. You live onsite and receive supportive care and different therapies to treat the addiction.
- Outpatient Rehab. You live at home but travel to rehab for therapy, support, and other treatments.
Find Addiction Treatment Near You
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Bath salts.
- Salani, D., Albuja, L. D., & Zdanowicz, M. M. (2018).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, July). Synthetic cathinones (“bath salts”) DrugFacts.
- S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Flakka (alpha-PVP).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Bath salts.
- Nóbrega, L., & Dinis-Oliveira, R. J. (2018). The synthetic cathinone α-pyrrolidinovalerophenone (α-PVP): pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic clinical and forensic aspects. Drug metabolism reviews, 50(2), 125–139.
- Colby, D. (n.d.).
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013, September 17). The DAWN Report: “bath salts” were involved in over 20,000 drug-related emergency department visits in 2011.
- Palamar, J. J. (2018). “Bath salt” use and beliefs about use among electronic dance music attendees. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 50(5), 437–444.
- La Maida, N., Di Trana, A., Giorgetti, R., Tagliabracci, A., Busardò, F. P., & Huestis, M. A. (2021). A review of synthetic cathinone-related fatalities from 2017 to 2020. Therapeutic drug monitoring, 43(1), 52–68.
- Palamar J. J. (2015). “Bath salt” use among a nationally representative sample of high school seniors in the United States. The American journal on addictions, 24(6), 488–491.
- Patocka, J., Zhao, B., Wu, W., Klimova, B., Valis, M., Nepovimova, E., & Kuca, K. (2020). Flakka: new dangerous synthetic cathinone on the drug scene. International journal of molecular sciences, 21(21), 8185.