It might be a term of endearment in Latin America, but “la flaca” means something entirely different in the international drug world. Spanish for ‘pretty, skinny girl who charms all she meets’, Flakka is a highly addictive designer drug known for its ability to make people go crazy. Horrific stories of Flakka addicts displaying bizarre behaviour including running through the streets naked, gaining superhuman strength and engaging in violent acts, have led to it being referred to as the ‘Zombie drug’. Here, the team at Delamere wellness retreat shares more information on this dangerous drug, its origins, composition and the reason it’s so addictive.
Man-made in China, Flakka is a synthetic version of naturally occurring amphetamine-like drugs called cathinones. Technically known as alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PVP), Flakka is one of a group of psychotic substances that first came to light twenty years ago as cheaper alternatives to drugs such as cocaine, LSD and ecstasy. Like its close cousins “Bath Salts” and “Molly”, Flakka is popular with young clubbers who want the mind-altering effects of acid combined with the euphoric feelings of ecstasy.
But the true origins of Flakka go much further back in time. Flakka is designed to synthetically emulate the psychotic powers of the khat shrub – a plant that has been chewed in North Africa and the Middle East for thousands of years for its delirium-inducing effects. Made illegal in the UK in 2014, khat is still widely used in its native countries. Today, it’s estimated 10 million people chew khat worldwide and it’s used by up to 80% of adults in Somalia and Yemen. (1)
On the street, Flakka is called ‘gravel’ because it looks a bit like the white crystalline gravel you get at the bottom of aquariums. Synthetic cathinones, like Flakka, are often marketed as ‘bath salts, ‘research chemicals’, ‘plant food’, ‘glass cleaner’ and are labelled as ‘not for human consumption’ in order to skirt the law and hide the real reason for distributing the substance. Street names of designer cathinones include Ivory Wave, Meow Meow, Snow Leopard, Pure Ivory and White Lightning. Following a growing number of stories around abusers’ crazy antics, Flakka has been dubbed the ‘insanity drug’ and ‘Zombie drug’.
Usually pink or white in the form of crystals or powder, Flakka can be smoked, snorted, swallowed, put into a solution and injected or even vaped in e-cigarettes. When synthetic drugs are heated during vaporisation, they enter the bloodstream much more quickly leading to a higher risk of an overdose. Many people also choose to mix Flakka with other drugs such as methamphetamine, ketamine, marijuana and GHB. One study into high school pupils using the drug found that over 50% were using Flakka in combination with other drugs. (2)
Like all cathinone stimulants, Flakka is highly addictive. So much so, it’s classed by the US Drug Enforcement Administration as being ‘unable to be safely used even under the supervision of a physician and likely to produce symptoms of physical or psychological dependence’. Some reports suggest Flakka is at least ten times stronger than cocaine, so strong that taking more than 0.1 grams can cause an overdose. (3)
High doses deliver a similar high to cocaine or methamphetamine, which can cause paranoid delusions and involuntary muscle jerks. In small doses, Flakka can give users an immediate sense of euphoria, boost confidence, lessen inhibitions and increase libido. When the brain gets used to these pleasant sensations, it is hardwired to want more, leading to a higher tolerance, greater dependence and a potentially deadly addiction. Known as the poor man’s cocaine, Flakka is both cheap and accessible, further increasing the potential for abuse, especially among young people.
The expert team at Delamere is used to treating all kinds of drug addiction and has direct experience of helping people overcome their dependence on Flakka. We take a holistic approach to healing at our state-of-the-art wellness retreat in the heart of Cheshire. Guests undergo a complete transformation physically, mentally and emotionally during a tailormade drug rehab programme which includes a safe and comfortable drug detox. We help people to understand what got them here in the first place and to establish positive actions that can help them out of addiction.
Flakka works in a similar way to other amphetamine-like synthetic substances in that it increases the level of dopamine in the brain – the neurotransmitter responsible for controlling pleasure and reward. Flakka reduces the reuptake of dopamine which produces a state of euphoria and elation, as well as increased alertness and often aggressive behaviour.
Although people use Flakka to enhance their mental state, too much can quickly cause the user to descend into terrible delusions, paranoid psychosis, extreme agitation, and many other altered mental states. This is because its chemical composition causes a condition known as agitated delirium which causes changes to the mental state, including bizarre behaviour, anxiety, agitation, violence, confusion, involuntary muscle spasms, and seizures. (2)
Symptoms of agitated delirium include:
People who are abusing Flakka will likely display some of these symptoms and their behaviour may seem bizarre or uncontrollable. Known to cause psychosis, agitation and paranoia, Flakka shuts off the part of the brain responsible for rational control and can lead to people believing they have superhuman strength. It is a Schedule 1 drug in the US, which are drugs that are classed as the most dangerous and with the highest risk for abuse and dependence.
If you, or someone you know, is abusing Flakka, it’s important you get help. The clinical team at Delamere can support you through a safe clinical drug detox and have a range of holistic rehab programmes to help you through and out of addiction.
If a person is taking Flakka in high doses, stopping suddenly can be extremely dangerous. Without proper medical supervision the side effects of Flakka withdrawal can be deadly. If you suspect someone you know has been abusing Flakka spotting these withdrawal symptoms could save their life:
As a relatively new drug, the long-term effects of Flakka haven’t been widely studied but all psychoactive drugs are known to cause cardiovascular problems, respiratory difficulties, kidney and liver damage. If you are struggling with Flakka addiction, it is important to get help from a medical professional who can facilitate a full drug rehab programme.
Recognising you have a problem is the first step to overcoming addiction. If your Flakka use is out of control or you suspect a loved one is struggling with Flakka abuse, get help today from Delamere. Our peaceful wellness retreat by the forest is the perfect place to begin Flakka withdrawal in safe surroundings.
Our addiction specialists have expert knowledge on the latest medications and advanced therapeutic practices to make your transition into recovery as comfortable as possible. Every guest has their own ensuite room and dedicated team of medical professionals to support them every step of the way. We will start with a medically assisted drug detox and continue with a range of supportive measures to guide you on the right path.
We don’t just cure the physical symptoms of addiction. We look at all aspects of your life to help you work through your pain points and heal holistically. Once we have instilled a set of coping mechanisms you will return home free from Flakka addiction, but still with the reassurance of 24/7 support from your personal therapist and group mentors.
1. Celastraceae, Editor(s): J.K. Aronson, Meyler’s Side Effects of Drugs (Sixteenth Edition), Elsevier, 2016, 184-190, ISBN 9780444537164, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-444-53717-1.00462-5.
2. 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. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21218185.
3. Oliver, M. (2017). 10 Horrifying facts about Flakka: The zombie drug.
Alex is the Admissions Manager at Delamere. Alex has organised more admissions into treatment than most. Find out more about Alex on our team page.
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