Flakka (Zombie Drug)

Flakka (alpha-PVP) is a highly addictive and dangerous drug. It is used to achieve a cheap, quick, and euphoric high. Flakka can cause frightening side effects, including violent aggression, self-injury, paranoia, and hallucinations.
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What is Flakka (Alpha-PVP) & Is It Addictive?

Flakka is a highly addictive and dangerous drug, otherwise known as alpha-PVP (alpha-pyrrolidinovalerophenone.) The drug is also illegal; it is classified as a Schedule 1 synthetic drug by the U.D. DEA. 

Flakka originally became popular as a new synthetic drug in South Florida with people looking for a cheap high. Flakka is the latest in a selection of synthetic drugs used in the United States. The illegal substance can sell on the streets for as little as five dollars a hit.

Flakka use has also been reported in other parts of the United States.

Flakka comes in crystal form, and it is typically pink or white. The synthetic drug may be eaten, injected, snorted, or vaporized in e-cigarettes. Vaporizing flakka sends the drug quickly into the bloodstream. This method of ingestion can make it particularly easy to overdose on flakka. 

Recently, the abuse of synthetic drugs has re-emerged as a significant worldwide issue. Synthetic drugs are illicitly created to produce substances that differ slightly from legal drugs. However, they still retain their pharmacological effects. A substance produced in this way is otherwise known as a designer drug.

Hand holding package of pills

Flakka Street Names

Other street names for flakka include:

  • Gravel
  • Flocka

Flakka (Zombie Drug) vs. Bath Salts

Flakka is chemically similar to the street drug known as bath salts or MDPV. 

Synthetic drugs known as bath salts are from the synthetic cathinone class of drugs, like flakka. Synthetic cathinones are central nervous system stimulants. They mimic the effects similar to those resulting from illegal drugs. These include cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy).

Other street names for bath salts include:

  • Bliss
  • Blue Silk
  • Cloud Nine
  • Drone
  • Energy-1
  • Ivory Wave
  • Lunar Wave
  • Meow Meow
  • Ocean Burst
  • Pure Ivory
  • Purple Wave
  • Red Dove
  • Snow Leopard
  • Stardust
  • Vanilla Sky
  • White Dove
  • White Knight
  • White Lightning

When sold legally, synthetic cathinones drugs often market as the following:

  • Bath salts
  • Research chemicals
  • Plant food
  • Glass cleaner

Synthetic cathinones are also labeled as ‘not for human consumption.’ These labels help hide the real reason for the product's existence, so the drugs distribute easily.

Bath salts come in powder form, which is typically packaged in gelatin capsules. Bath salts are commonly ingested by sniffing or snorting. They can also be taken orally, smoked, or placed into a solution and injected into the veins.

Bath salts are produced in East Asia. They are distributed wholesale throughout Europe, North America, Australia, and other parts of the world.

The synthetic stimulants sell at the following:

  • Smoke shops
  • Convenience stores
  • Adult book stores
  • Gas stations
  • Websites on the internet

Bath salts are used to achieve feelings of euphoria and alertness. Dangerous and adverse side effects are also associated with the abuse of synthetic cathinones like bath salts. These include:

  • Overdose and death
  • Confusion
  • Acute psychosis
  • Agitation
  • Combativeness
  • Aggressive, self-destructive, and violent behavior
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperthermia
  • Prolonged dilation of the pupil of the eye
  • Breakdown of muscle fibers that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the bloodstream
  • Teeth grinding
  • Increased sweating
  • Headaches
  • Palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

Flakka Effects and “High”

Flakka is an addictive drug that people use to obtain a cheap, quick, and euphoric high. The cathinones found in flakka stimulate the release of dopamine. The cathinones also inhibit the reuptake of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the central nervous system. 

As cathinones are hydrophobic molecules, they can cross cell membranes and the blood-brain barrier. This allows them to interact with the monoamine transporters in the synaptic cleft between neurons.

The euphoric high from flakka abuse can last from hours to days, depending on the dosage. Sometimes the effects of flakka can linger for weeks after it has been ingested.

Graphic of four pills to display party drugs.

Symptoms of Flakka Abuse & Addiction

Although people use flakka to achieve a euphoric high, the drug's symptoms and side effects can escalate quickly.

Like other stimulants of this type, flakka can cause excited delirium, otherwise known as agitated delirium. This condition occurs when there’s an excessive influx of sympathetic activation. 

Excited delirium can involve:

  • Frightening delusions
  • Violent aggression
  • Extreme agitation
  • Paranoid psychosis
  • Hyperstimulation
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Myoclonus (involuntary muscle jerks)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperthermia
  • Increased sweating
  • Prolonged dilation of the pupil of the eye

Flakka can also lead to various other altered mental states. 

When experiencing excited delirium, some people react with violent behavior and self-injury. Flakka has been linked to several deaths by suicide, as well as heart attacks. The drug can also raise body temperature dangerously high, leading to kidney damage or failure.

Flakka Withdrawal Symptoms

Synthetic cathinones like flakka are highly addictive. Users have reported that the drug use of flakka can trigger intense and uncontrollable urges to ingest the drug again.

When someone is addicted to flakka, they can experience withdrawal symptoms without it. These withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
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Treatment Options for Flakka Addiction

As flakka is a new drug, there is still a lot to learn about the treatment of the substance. Little information is known about flakka outside what is reported from users. 

However, several traditional drug treatment approaches can help someone addicted to flakka become sober.


Detox is the first treatment step for someone who is addicted to flakka. Detox refers to clearing flakka out from the body so that one’s physical and psychological health can be assessed and treated.

When someone goes through a flakka detox, they will usually experience withdrawal symptoms such as those listed above.

As little is known about flakka, detoxing in the care of medical professionals is essential.

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy can treat addiction to synthetic cathinones like flakka. Examples of behavioral therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management and motivational incentives. 

Motivational incentives offer rewards to patients who remain substance-free. This type of behavioral therapy is often aimed at teens.

Mental Health Treatment

As with all addictions, those experiencing addition to flakka should screen for co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.

While there are no FDA-approved medications for addiction to flakka, there are medicines available for co-occurring mental health conditions.

Ready to Make a Change?


Flakka (alpha-PVP), United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/flakka-alpha-pvp


Drug alert: Flakka (alpha-PVP), Just think twice, https://www.justthinktwice.gov/drug-alert-flakka-alpha-pvp


"Flakka" (alpha-PVP), National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2015, https://archives.drugabuse.gov/emerging-trends/flakka-alpha-pvp 


Drugs of abuse, United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 2017, https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/sites/getsmartaboutdrugs.com/files/publications/DoA_2017Ed_Updated_6.16.17.pdf#page=86


Synthetic Cathinones ("Bath Salts") DrugFacts, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cathinones-bath-salts


Crespi, Craig. “Flakka-Induced Prolonged Psychosis.” Case reports in psychiatry vol. 2016, 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4933860/

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Updated on: August 7, 2020
Ellie Swain
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Medically Reviewed: July 28, 2020
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Annamarie Coy,
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