Blog - Flakka: a new drug or just more of the same?

Man exhaling cigarette smoke

Flakka (α-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone) is a recently described street drug that first emerged in Florida. It is a type of synthetic drug, similar to the so-called "designer drugs", designed to evade drug detection systems and to defeat legislation regarding illicit drug use. It is an amphetamine-like stimulant related to the chemicals that have been extracted and derived from the khat plant, used in parts of the Middle East and eastern Africa.

The leaves of khat are chewed during social gatherings, or sometimes smoked. Its traditional social use appears to be similar to that of coca leaf in Andean South America as both a social stimulant and as an aid to prevent fatigue and increase endurance.

Cathinones were developed in the 1960s and have been variously scheduled and restricted in many jurisdictions since the early 1990s. It stimulates dopamine release and prevents noradrenaline and serotonin re-uptake in the brain, causing euphoria. Its effects are most similar to methamphetamine, with the effects including euphoria, rapid heart rate and palpitations, elevated blood pressure, alertness, and increased aggressive behaviour. Many of the street drugs known as ‘bath salts’ contain cathinones. It presents unusually in some consumers with bizarre and uncontrollable behaviours, giving it the label the ‘Zombie drug’.

What does this imply for workplaces and for drug testing programs?

Firstly, the effects presented on television and in internet articles, such as the video below  appear extreme and obviously this level of drug use is obvious and would result in incapacity and inability to perform any useful work. However, the residual effects of intoxication, that may persist for days following use, have not been adequately investigated and it is possible that some impairment of work performance, judgement and social interactions may occur.

The effects of the comedown from Flakka (as the drug is cleared from the body) include fatigue and depression, and this can lead to abuse cycles and addiction. Tolerance to the euphoric effects is rapid and can lead to the use of escalating doses with a risk of overdose. In this way it can appear as serious a drug as crystal meth and crack cocaine.

It is unclear whether it will be detected in on-site drug screening devices, so workplace managers should be aware that a negative on-site test may not exclude the use of Flakka, and that further laboratory testing may be required.

Boilerplate John