What is flakka and what does it do to you?

When flakka makes the news, it's never a good thing. In fact, it can be downright bizarre - including this case in Florida, where a man apparently using the drug offered a ride to the woman whose car he stole.

It can also have far more tragic consequences.

So what is flakka, and why is law enforcement so concerned about it? Here’s a quick look at the drug and what it does to a person.

What is flakka?

Alpha-PVP, or flakka, is a synthetic stimulant that is, chemically, similar to amphetamines. It has also been compared to a combination of methamphetamines and crack cocaine. It is similar to “bath salts,” another so-called designer drug that gives users extreme highs. (This is not the bath salts you may be putting in your tub)

What does it look like?

Flakka is made up of  granules that are either white or pink – thus it also goes by the name “gravel.” It has a foul smell.

What is it made of?

Alpha-PVP is made in China and contains synthetic chemicals that block the molecules that keep dopamine and serotonin – neurotransmitters which help determine mood - balanced in the brain. Flakka allows those neurotransmitters to flood the brain producing a high.

What does it do to you?

Called “$5 insanity” by some, alpha-PVP causes a condition known as “excited delirium.”  This produces paranoia, hallucinations, hyperstimulation and, in the extreme, violent actions. It has also been connected to several suicides.

Medically, the drug can lead to a heart attack, kidney damage or kidney failure. It can quickly raise body temperature to dangerous levels.

How do you take it?

Alpha-PVP can be snorted, injected, eaten, or vaporized in an e-cigarette.

What are the possible long-term effects?

The high from flakka can last several hours. The paranoia can last several months. Damage to the kidneys can result in the need for dialysis for the remainder of a user’s life.

How prevalent is it?

According to a story from Forbes, as of last year, the US Drug Enforcement Administration has seen a nearly 780 percent increase in the number of reported cases since 2012.

Is it legal?

Alpha-PVP is a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it is illegal to import, possess or sell. It is banned in Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, United Kingdom, Turkey, Norway and the  Czech Republic.

What have people done while on the drug?

There have been several reports of people doing  particularly odd things while  under the influence of flakka. In South Florida alone, there have been reports of a man standing naked on a building, holding a gun and threatening others; a man with what police called “superhuman strength" kicking in the hurricane doors at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, and a man who repeatedly said he was God then attacked police after twice being Tased.

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse; CNN; Forbes; WebMD

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