The new synthetic drug known as "flakka" appears to be as potent and addictive as bath salts, a new rodent study suggests.
Flakka and bath salts are chemically similar.
In some cases, Flakka can cause heart palpitations and aggressive, violent behavior. Use of the drug can affect the kidneys, leading to kidney failure or death.
Flakka use has recently been reported in Florida, Ohio and Texas. The drug is sold in other parts of the country as "Gravel." Flakka, which comes in crystalline rock form, can be snorted, swallowed, injected or vaped in an e-cigarette. While its effects are generally felt for three or four hours, they can continue for days.
Flakka's main ingredient is a chemical compound called alpha-PVP. In the new study, scientists at The Scripps Research Institute compared flakka with bath salts, also known as MDPV. They studied rats trained to press a lever to infuse themselves intravenously with small doses of drugs, MedicalXpress reports.
"There have been assertions that flakka is somehow worse than MDPV, but this study shows that the two are very similar," researcher Michael A. Taffe said in a news release.
Added co-author Tobin J. Dickerson, "That doesn't mean that flakka use is 'safe'—our data show that flakka is as potent as MDPV, making it a very good stimulant, arguably with worse addiction liability than methamphetamine."
Flakka is thought to be made in labs in China, India and Pakistan, the article notes. It is designed to be slightly chemically different from bath salts, which are illegal in the United States. Alpha-PVP was temporarily banned by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2014. The ban is likely to become permanent, according to the article. Because flakka is sold for as little as $5 per dose, its use has grown in certain parts of the country.
The study appears in the journal Psychopharmacology.