Florida's Latest Designer Drug Might Be Its Most Insane

Unsatisfied with crystal meth and PCP, drug users in Florida have moved on to something else: A drug called "flakka," which apparently comes with hallucinations, euphoria, and a feeling of unstoppable energy.

People using flakka have reportedly done the following: tried to break down the door of a Fort Lauderdale police station, been impaled while trying to climb a fence, and yelled from a rooftop while naked and armed with a gun. So, it's hard not to compare the amphetamine-like drug to bath salts, which were blamed for another series of particularly weird (and gruesome) Florida incidents in 2012.

They are somewhat similar: Both contain synthetic compounds called cathinones, which also occur naturally in plants such as khat. Flakka is apparently made using one cathinone in particular: a-PVP, which specifically targets dopamine receptors. As epidemiologist Jim Hall, PhD, told CBS News, normally when dopamine is released, either naturally or because of other drugs, it gets taken back up into the neuron that released it. "But, in this case," he says, "its reuptake is blocked." As a result, the brain is flooded with dopamine, Dr. Hall says.

None of these synthetic compounds are new on their own, but they're constantly being rearranged and combined in different ways to produce stronger effects in slightly less illegal ways. Flakka is particularly interesting because it can be taken a variety of ways, including being vaped with an e-cigarette. Users in Florida have gotten most of the attention, but the drug has also been seen in several other states, including Texas and Ohio. 

Aside from those headline-making stunts and the obvious addiction potential, the health consequences of flakka can be serious. As with most intense stimulants, short-term effects include paranoia, agitation, loss of appetite, and aggression. In the long-term, effects can include the horrible-sounding rhabdomyolysis, which involves a "melting of the muscle tissue and the release of muscle fibers into the blood stream," according to CBS News. Yikes. We'll certainly be watching this one — from afar.
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