The US government makes efforts to keep up with the constantly changing chemicals used in illegal designer drugs. In 2012 federal legislation banned some varieties of bath salts an amphetamine-like drug. But now manufacturers have altered the chemicals in bath salts to create a stronger, more addictive drug that can be sold legally. This drug is called “Flakka” or “Gravel.” Flakka, a derivative of the Spanish word for a thin, elegant, pretty woman, is generally sold in a crystal form and is often smoked using electronic cigarettes, which are popular with young people and give off no odor. Because of the ability to place it into a cartridge and vape it, the drug can easily be concealed in public, allowing people to use it without anyone knowing. The drug can also be snorted, injected or swallowed. Effects are felt for three or four hours and can continue for days after.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), synthetic cathinones, found in Flakka and bath salts, rose from 14,239 to 16,500 annual cases from 2012 to 2013. Florida, Ohio and Texas have all reported Flakka cases and it seems to be spreading fast.
Flakka is a substance that initially provides an instant sense of euphoria and a boost in physical strength similar to other stimulants like cocaine and ecstasy. When people ingest too much Flakka or overdose, their body temperature can rapidly elevate (to as high as 105-106 degrees Fahrenheit). This can then lead to muscle disintegration and the subsequent release of a protein into the blood that affects the kidneys. When the kidneys can’t filter that protein, kidney failure or even death can occur. Flakka generally triggers severe anxiety, paranoia, and delusions, leading to a psychotic state, which includes a surge of violence and loss of awareness of reality and surroundings.
According to doctors interviewed by Fox News, “Flakka affects the reward center of the brain by releasing dopamine and flooding the user with a feeling of pleasure. When the body overdoses on euphoria, a phenomenon physicians refer to as ‘excited delirium’ occurs. During this process, the body becomes overheated, inducing hypothermia, and then the muscles over-activate, and the mind begins hallucinating.”
What makes synthetic cathinones like Flakka so addictive is their ability to block the reuptake transporters of dopamine. The doctors went on to say, “More of it remains active flooding the brain with excess dopamine, resulting in intense pleasure and its related anticipation that users come to crave resulting in compulsive use and a stronger addiction.”
South Florida hospitals and drug and alcohol treatment centers are admitting 20 new patients per day for Flakka abuse. There have also been multiple news reports from these areas due to bizarre behaviors exhibited by people high on Flakka. These behaviors include one man running naked through the streets because he thought a pack of dogs was chasing him to another man trying to have sex with a tree.
In his report to Fox News, Dr. Hall said, “It’s cheap like crack cocaine. This is as close as we’ve come to a crack cocaine problem since 1995 in terms of the severe reactions, low prices, and that it’s available to young kids, and even homeless populations are now impacted.”