Available for $5 (or less) a vial, a new designer drug is surging through Florida, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse, with new media reports now coming from Texas, Tennessee, and Ohio. Flakka causes intense delusions, which are key to its allure yet also cause for concern. This controlled substance may be deadly, especially when combined with vaping (smoking it with a vaporizing e-cigarette).

Physiological Effects

Specifically, the excited delirium inspired by the drug not only involves hyperstimulation and hallucinations but also a paranoia that often leads to aggressive violence or self-injury. Linked to deaths by suicide and heart attack, the drug can raise a user’s body temperature dangerously high (up to 106 degrees), leading to kidney damage or even kidney failure.

Made in China, Pakistan, and other countries, the drug (alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone or alpha-PDP) is sold as a foul-smelling white or pink crystal. It can be snorted, injected, or eaten. Though vaporizing flakka, which is popular among teens since it gives off no odor, may appear to be the least harmful way to take the drug, the reverse is true.

Vaping sends flakka directly into the bloodstream, making it particularly easy to overdose, according to NIDA. In fact, alpha-PVP is chemically similar to other bath salts, an emerging family of drugs containing one or more synthetic chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant found naturally in the Khat plant. Across the country, bath salts led to 23,000 emergency room visits in one year; 67 percent of that total resulted from bath salts combined with other drugs. Among those needing medical attention, common reactions include cardiac symptoms and psychiatric symptoms.

An Associated Press article tracks the recent spike in flakka use since its introduction on the Florida drug scene in 2013. That state's Department of Law Enforcement crime labs say submissions for testing the drug have grown from just 38 in 2013 to 228 in 2014. Meanwhile, the Broward Sheriff’s Office laboratory told AP that their flakka submissions grew from less than 200 in 2014 to 275 in just the first three months of this year. The same AP story recounts a few of the incidents which have brought notoriety to the drug. Two of the stories involve what otherwise might be laughably naked men: one who believes he is the mythical god Thor and is trying to have sex with a tree; the other is running down a busy street believing himself pursued by a pack of German shepherds. Meanwhile, a third man, convinced people are chasing him, impales himself on a fence.

So it goes with flakka, the ugly drug that nevertheless borrows its name from the Spanish word for a thin, pretty woman. Watch the AP/YouTube video below: