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As evidenced by the flood of designer drugs to hit the black market in the past decade, wherever there’s a will, there’s also apparently a rogue chemist somewhere hard at work.
Synthetic drugs used for recreational purposes are not a new phenomena. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), commonly known as “acid,” for example, was invented in the late 1930s.
This class of narcotics does share one thing, though. They’re incredibly dangerous.
The Flakka drug is making headlines across the country as the newest designer drug to hit the streets. It first caught the attention of law enforcement in Southern Florida, where in the span of a few weeks, officials saw several disturbing Flakka-related incidents.
One man high on the drug stood on his roof, naked, and was armed with a gun. Another impaled himself while scaling a fence outside of a police station, and still another person tried to break down the door of a different police precinct.
To complicate matters, Flakka has since shown up in other states, like Ohio and Texas.
Some healthcare experts are worried about the geographic spread of the drug. There’s been a 780 percent increase in reported cases, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), with 85 in 2012 and 670 in 2014.
Typically, Flakka is manufactured from a chemical called alpha-PVP, which is a synthetic version of the amphetamine-like stimulant cathinone.
Cathinones, derived from the khat plant, which grows in Somalia and the Middle East, are found in other designer drugs, such as “bath salts.”
In fact, Flakka could easily be considered a cousin to bath salts.
Flakka can cause devastating physical and psychological problems.
What are the side effects of Flakka?
- Excited Delirium – a deadly condition where an individual goes into hyperthermia and has a body temperature as high as 105 degrees. This is quickly made worse by a psychosis, in which users can have adrenaline-like strength (also super angry and agitated).
- Rhabdomyolysis – caused by cathinones, muscle tissue melts and releases fibers into the blood stream. Victims’ urine turns the color of Coca-Cola, and if not treated, “rhabdo” can cause kidney failure resulting in a permanent need for dialysis.
- Rapid heart rate
- Extreme aggression
- Psychosis and intense paranoia
After smoking, snorting, swallowing or injecting Flakka, it floods the brain with dopamine, a chemical that controls the brain’s pleasure centers and causes feelings of intense euphoria.
Users often take more of the drug while already high, sometimes referred to as “snacking,” to prolong the experience.
The prevalence of this “snacking” behavior, some experts believe, is evidence that Flakka creates a tolerance in users and is addicting, though there have not yet been any studies on the drug.
Jim Hall, an epidemiologist at the Center For Applied Research on Substance Abuse at Nova Southeastern University, has been monitoring Flakka since it’s appearance on the black market.
“One of the 21st trends in drug supply,” Hall told CBS News, “is creating new brand names like Flakka and building its popularity and then selling anything.” He points out that Flakka is often sold under the name “Gravel,” which is a similar class of drug.
Summing up the ultimate danger of taking designer drugs, Hall added, “The main issue with this whole category is that the user just doesn’t know what they’re taking or the strength of what they’re taking, and literally they are the guinea pigs.”