The Psychiatric Dangers of New Designer Drug ‘Flakka’

The synthetic stimulant "Flakka" can cause users to have thoughts or feelings of violence toward themselves or others.

Recent news reports have documented a surge in the use of “Flakka,” also known as “gravel.” This synthetic drug, most commonly created from Alpha-PVP, a synthetic stimulant first developed in the 1960s, has gained popularity in recent months. Flakka imitates the stimulant cathinone and is known to produce feelings of delirium and euphoria.

It is the same type of chemical used to create another abused substance known as “bath salts,” which contain synthetic chemicals related to amphetamine, and the effects of which have been noted in serious and alarming cases. These drugs may also be highly addictive and unpredictable.

Synthetic stimulants like Flakka flood the user’s brain with dopamine, the brain’s chemical reward, and block normal reuptake, which creates persistent symptoms. While a feeling of euphoria is anticipated because of the surge of dopamine, synthetics such as Flakka can also lead to unpredictable, destructive behavior and extreme aggression and psychosis.

Besides rapid heartbeat, dizziness, irritability, and increased blood pressure, they have led to aggression, paranoia, hallucination, psychotic episodes, heart attack, homicidal impulses, and even death. Synthetic stimulants mimic LSD, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and cocaine. Of further concern is that symptoms for first-time users of the substance can persist for several days, and repeat users may take up to two weeks to return to a baseline state of mind.

Synthetics are dangerous even in their most unaltered forms, but because the chemicals used for production vary and users cannot be sure of the drug’s ingredients, potency, and effects of use, users run high risks of serious complications including extreme aggression, psychosis, and cardiovascular problems.

Flakka’s Appeal

Availability and affordability are likely the primary drivers of appeal for these types of drugs. Synthetic drugs may be significantly less expensive, but produce a similar “high” when compared to other stimulants such as cocaine and ecstasy. Users may also find easy accessibility to synthetic stimulants in convenience stores, smoke shops, and online.