What is Flakka?

Flakka. A designer drug that causes hyperstimulation, increased strength and severe paranoia became quite popular in the mid-2000s. Alpha pyrrolidinopentiophenone also known as Alpha PVP, also known as flakka, was designed to mimic the effects of other stimulant hallucinogenics like ecstasy and LSD. Flakka is the street name for the synthetic man-made cathinone. The substance took its name from the Spanish colloquial slang term for a beautiful and charming woman, “la flaca.”

Alpha PVP or flakka, is chemically similar to bath salts. It is made into a gravel, crystal-like appearance, that is white or pink in color. It can be eaten, snorted, injected, or vaped. Under the US Drug Enforcement Administration, it is listed as a Schedule I drug. This means the substance has no medical use and is a high potential for abuse.

A person wondering what is flakka, pours crystal white bath salts out from a small glass jar onto their hand.

What is Flakka?

What is flakka and what is flakka made of? Alpha PVP or flakka, is a man-made cathinone drug typically made from a manufactured version of stimulant amphetamines. This new wave of synthetic cathinone is also called New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) and is considered more potent than its predecessors in which a user is much more likely to experience dangerous side effects.

Synthetic cathinones are stimulants that most commonly originate from laboratories in China and India. In 2013, flakka was created in China and being sold online over the Internet. That same year, an estimated 123 deaths in Florida were linked to the synthetic substance, according to the United Way of Broward County’s Commission on Behavioral Health and Drug Prevention.

Flakka is most chemically related to natural cathinones found in the Khat plant. The Khat plant is native to areas of the Middle East and East Africa. These plant leaves were traditionally chewed on in order to achieve stimulant-like effects.

How does flakka work? Once the drug enters the system, chemicals bind to molecules on the surface of neurons that usually manage mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. As a result, the brain is flooded with these chemicals the body is able to use, making them feel an intense high and a sense of extreme euphoria. Users claim the euphoric effects of flakka can last longer than cocaine and methamphetamine.

Infographic comparing the differences and similarities between bath salts and flakka.

Effects of Alpha PVP

The initial effects of using flakka result in a euphoric high, intense stimulation and the ability to stay focused. However, once the high wears off and users begin increasing the dosage of the drug, it can lead to dangerous side effects that include death and thoughts and behaviors linked to suicide. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, flakka can cause a dangerous symptom known as excited delirium.

The clinical signs of this symptom include tachycardia, hypertension, hyperthermia and excessive sweating. Excited delirium is usually defined by feelings of hyper-stimulation, hallucinations, increased physical strength and feelings of intense paranoia and psychosis. In severe situations, it can lead to seizures, stroke and a heart attack.  

Other side effects include:

  • High fever
  • Liver failure
  • Hypertension
  • Violent acts of aggression and extreme agitation
  • Self-injury
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Stroke
  • High risk for aneurysm
  • Irregular heartbeat and elevated heart rate
  • Kidney damage
  • Delirious thoughts
  • Hyperstimulation
  • Jerking muscle movements
  • Increased risk for depression and anxiety

Check Your Insurance Coverage for FREE

Find out if your insurance covers addiction treatment in minutes. We accept most insurance!

Why are users turning to Flakka?

Alpha PVP is fast becoming users drug of choice due to its ability to mimic the same effects of cocaine and meth at a much lower cost. It has become a cheaper alternative to other pricier street drugs. At about $5 per dose, flakka can result in an intense and attainable high lasting for up to 5 hours. The nickname “5 dollar insanity” describes the effects of use.

It is a drug many young adults turn to due to its affordability and its accessibility. Unfortunately, many young people are still unaware of the dangerous side effects that include twitching, delusions and life-threatening seizures that are associated with synthetic cathinone abuse. It is used for its euphoria potential, but those feelings can easily escalate into paranoid psychosis, delusions and an altered mental state.

Bath Salts vs Flakka

Bath salts and flakka are very similar drugs that produce nearly identical effects on the body. They cause the user to initially experience an intense sense of euphoria. However, once the dosage has increased, serious side effects begin to kick in. Users often experience hallucinations, panic attacks and paranoia. This can lead to acting on bizarre behaviors, the development of anxiety, an extreme sense of agitation and confusion. In severe cases, users can become violent and put themselves and others in danger.

During its first popular introduction, Flakka and bath salts became known as zombie drugs. It was given this name due to its effects on users, making them lose touch completely with reality and the world. Bath salts and flakka are both highly addictive substances that are labeled unsafe for human consumption. They can cause withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, paranoia, depression and the development of sleep conditions.

Bath Salts

  • Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) is one of the main ingredients in Bath Salts
  • A designer drug that contains the active ingredient cathinone, which is a naturally occurring substance found in the Khat plant. It produces amphetamine-like effects.
  • Synthesized and manufactured in China and shipped overseas
  • Bath salts is more of an umbrella term for a heterogeneous mixture of synthetic cathinones and other chemical additives sold under the name at that point in time.
  • The drug is usually comprised of two or more different stimulant substances: mephedrone, methylone, or MDPV
  • When some of these ingredients were banned by the DEA, their chemical formulas were slightly altered. This created flakka.
  • Have been banned in the US


  • Alpha pyrrolidinopentiophenone (Alpha PVP) is the only ingredient in Flakka
  • The newer generation of designer drugs contains the active ingredient cathinone which is popular and significantly cheaper, making it more accessible to those struggling with addiction.
  • Synthesized in China
  • Difficult and dangerous to make because each formula made is different every time due to trying to stay on top of regulations, which ban the substance. In order to work around the ban, formulas are slightly altered each time. This makes the composition and potency of each batch unknown and unpredictable.
  • Have not been officially banned in the US
  • Vaping is the most common way to ingest flakka
  • Because it’s a newer drug, long-term side effects are not yet known

Also known to produce zombie-like effects, flakka and bath salts have become popular substances for users with stimulant drug cravings. Not only is the substance highly addictive, but also extremely dangerous and has the potential to cause long-term psychological damage.

Reach out to Hotel California by the Sea

We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.

Hotel California by the Sea provides substance use disorder treatment for people struggling with addiction to synthetic cathinone drugs such as flakka. Through various levels of care including detox, residential and outpatient programming, clients will receive professional treatment to help them overcome their addiction. Offering unique treatments such as CBT, family therapy and group therapy, clients will learn valuable skills to help manage any triggering thoughts and situations related to their addiction.

Hotel California by the Sea specializes in co-occurring mental health conditions and provides full services to help treat these disorders that may be affecting a substance or alcohol addiction. Clients can expect to receive individualized care and the support of an experienced team to help them recover.