The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone (abbreviated as alpha-PVP) is a synthetic cathinone. It is also known by the street names flakka, gravel, and zombie drug because it produces a catatonic-like state in some people.
Cathinones are substances derived from the khat plant, which is used in Africa and the Middle East as a stimulant. The psychoactive substance in flakka is one of the most common synthetic cathinones, and it is also known by the nickname bath salts.
All of these substances have been classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the Schedule I category. These drugs are designated as having no medical uses at all; being highly prone to abuse, dangerous to use, and unable to be used safely even under the supervision of a physician; and likely to produce the symptoms of physical or psychological dependence in people who abuse them for a significant length of time.
All of the designer drugs that fall under the heading of “bath salts” were declared illegal under the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act — Synthetic Drugs signed by President Barack Obama in 2012. The trend, reported by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, indicated that there was a significant rise between 2009 and 2012 in emergency room visits associated with drugs like flakka; since then, there has been a decline. Following the actions by the federal government, states and even national government agencies began to aggressively seize imports of the drug, and states also instituted educational programs regarding the dangers of the drug.
The state that was the most notorious for flakka abuse was Florida. There was a decline in documented cases of abuse of the drug after 2012, although, as mentioned above, the drug is still available through illicit sources and remains a significant drug of abuse.
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Reported Ingredients in Flakka and Their Effects
According to NIDA and the DEA, substances like flakka were most often manufactured in Pakistan and China. In the early 2000s, these drugs became very popular with young people, so some laboratories in states where they live (e.g., in Florida) manufactured the drug locally to more easily meet demand.
However, because the manufacture of flakka is not supervised or regulated in any way, the ingredients in the drug may vary from source to source and even from different packages from the same producer. This means that people who purchase these drugs have no idea what they are really getting. According to NIDA, other substances are often added to these drugs, such as MDMA (ecstasy) or methamphetamine (crystal meth), or other synthetic cathinones, such as methcathinone (MCAT), mephedrone, or methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV).
- Alpha-PVP is made with synthetic cathinones and pyrrolidines.
- There is a three-step procedure in manufacturing flakka, but the process is not well reported even in scientific journals.
- The drug is crystallized or made in a power or pill form (or capsules) at varying purities.
- Some samples may contain caffeine.
- Gelatin and sugar may be added to some forms to make it look like candy, .
The drug can be snorted, smoked, injected, or taken orally. The action of alpha-PVP appears to block the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine. There are various effects that might include:
- Immediate effects of euphoria, feelings of invulnerability, extreme stimulation, and a loss of inhibitions.
- Cardiovascular effects such as increased heart rate or irregular heart rate, increased blood pressure (due to vasoconstriction), and an increased potential for heart attack or stroke.
- Increased body temperature, increased perspiration, and increased potential for dehydration due to sweating and increased urination.
- Respiratory distress or renal failure.
- Muscle spasms, tremors, and even seizures may occur.
- In some individuals, significant swelling in the brain can result in numerous potentially dangerous issues.
- Over time, people may experience issues with insomnia and a loss of appetite.
- Significant psychoactive effects can include increased anxiety, panic attacks, aggressive behavior, self-mutilation, and suicidality.
- There is a potential for psychosis (experiencing hallucinations and or delusions) and severe delirium.
The delirium that occurs as a result of flakka use may initially be an agitated form where the person is hallucinating, hyperactive, confused, and disoriented; however, some people also develop a hypoactive delirium, often referred to as a “zombie-like state,” where the person is catatonic, not responsive, and may be hallucinating, delusional, or significantly confused.
Research suggests that chronic use of the drug results in the development of physical dependence. There are cases of fatalities due to overdose. At this time, it appears that there is a significant potential for chronic abusers of the drug to suffer marked neurological damage.