Flakka: A Breakdown of the ‘Zombie’ Designer Drug

Flakka guide
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When, earlier this month, reports exploded that a 19-year-old FSU student stabbed a married couple to death and chewed on the husband’s face, it was only the latest harrowing incident in a chain of scary flakka-related events. The gory murder has understandably gotten tons more attention than less sensational drug news. But actually, the drug itself isn’t new—it’s the ingredients it’s made with that are becoming more dangerous.

What’s in It

Flakka is a synthetic stimulant called a cathinone, more commonly known as bath salts. The key word here is synthetic, meaning, obviously, that the drug is 100 percent man-made and unnatural. “Flakka is similar to synthetic marijuana or K2,” says Warren Zysman, CEO of ACI Chemical Dependency Treatment Centers, who has been a clinician in the chemical-dependency field since 1997. “It’s lab-made, mostly in China, with absolutely no regulation. And the composition is constantly changing in order to prevent legal detection, so it’s hard to nail down, and that’s very dangerous.”

What It Does to Your Body

The reason people become so over-the-top aggressive and out of control when they’re on flakka, which is usually smoked, is because of those unnatural chemicals. “The effect is similar to LSD,” says Zysman. “Because of the toxic chemicals and the way it interacts with your brain, it triggers intense impulsive and aggressive behavior and paranoia. People lose control and do things they never would have done otherwise.” Physically, it’s likely to cause elevated blood pressure and can even cause stroke or heart attack, depending on the chemical compound.

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Why It’s “Trending” Now

There’s a widespread misunderstanding among young drug users right now about which drugs are considered safe, says Zysman. “There’s a big movement to get involved with opiates, K2, bath salts, and flakka, because many of these drugs can be obtained ‘legally,'” he says. “But they’re being misused and abused, and it’s leading to the synthetic drug trend we’re seeing, which leads to complicated medical reactions and severe drug addiction.” Another thing that makes flakka appealing to some users: A lot of labs don’t include it on drug tests, so people think they can get high and get away with it. “The crazy part is that because it’s sold as bath salts, you can’t get arrested for having or selling it even though it’s much more dangerous than something like marijuana,” says Zysman.

Why It’s Worse than Other Drugs

Because of the synthetic chemicals in flakka and the completely unnatural reaction our bodies and brains have to them, the “high” is more dangerous than other drugs, even possibly heroin, Zysman says. “When someone uses heroin, they cause significant damage to themselves and have a high risk of overdosing, but they’re not committing those acts against other people,” he says. “Whereas with flakka, there’s the risk of lashing out in an extreme and life-threatening way toward others.” The one silver lining of scary incidents like the incident with the FSU student is that word gets out about the drug, and fast. The negative publicity that surrounds it might help prevent people from experimenting with it, says Zysman—at least that’s what he hopes.

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