March 11, 2016 | Continuing Ed with Ed Baker

"Continuing Ed" with Ed Baker: Flakka

Ed Baker 2 RGB
Burlington Labs Addiction Education Specialist




Ecstasy, Smiles, Bliss...

Synthetic Cathinones, or Bath Salts, as they are known, are given misleading, attractive names to enhance illegal marketing and sales. The latest iteration is Flakka, whose name is a slang derivation of the Spanish word flaca, meaning a slender, attractive female.

The active chemical ingredient in Flakka is Alpha PVP, a very powerful synthetic cathinone, similar in its effects to amphetamine and cocaine. It mimics the effects of cathinone, which is found in the Khat plant, common to Africa and Egypt. Flakka is a “designer drug” - categorized as such because it is designed and manufactured in a laboratory, specifically altering its chemical composition in order to render it technically not illegal and/or difficult to detect through drug use testing techniques.

Produced in clandestine laboratories, and marketed throughout Europe and the US, Flakka is quickly gaining in popularity because of its powerful effects and relatively low cost. In Florida, over the past year, there have been so many violent altercations with police that Flakka has been labeled “the insanity drug.”

What occurs in the brain is a cascade of three brain neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Simultaneously the brain’s natural re-uptake function is inhibited, enabling the buildup of an overwhelming level of these chemicals to result in an over-stimulation of the brain called excited-delirium.

The Flakka user’s experience of excited-delirium is marked by intense euphoria, hyper-stimulation of the nervous system, no need to sleep or eat, the presence of often paranoid hallucinations, and frequent violent behavior.

bath salts04The National Forensic Laboratory Information System has noted a quadrupling of synthetic cathinones between 2010 and 2012. Wolfgang Goetz, past Director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, has said of designer drugs, “what is new is the wide range of substances now being explored, the aggressive marketing of products that have been intentionally mislabeled, the growing use of the internet, and the speed at which the market reacts to control measures.”

Illicit manufacturers’ evasive chemical innovations have created the impression that these drugs are not detectable in routine drug tests, making them appealing to individuals likely to be monitored for drug use.

The response to this new class of dangerous and highly addictive drugs is a challenge that our scientists are tackling head-on here at Burlington Labs, as our R&D teams double down to stay ahead of the curve, developing reliable techniques to detect the presence of designer drugs.

I look forward to continuing the conversation about addiction, treatment and recovery.

Have a question or comment for Ed? Reach out at [email protected].