There is a not so new drug being introduced into South Africa. It is cheaper than cocaine, extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all cost. It is popularly known as “flakka” but is also called “gravel”, “bath salt” or “the zombie-drug”. In America it is often referred to as the “$5 insanity drug”.

For the more scientifically or intellectually inclined, flakka’s offical name is α-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone (more easily α-PVP). It was patented in 1967 and affects the norepinephrine and dopamine levels in the brain. It is not clear where the name “flakka” comes from, but it is believed to be derived from Spanish slang “la flaca”, apparently meaning something like thin girl. It popped its ugly head up in the USA in January 2013 and is believed to have been manufactured in China. It is already a huge problem in the USA and Australia.

Flakka is a chemically synthesised psychoactive stimulant in the cathinone class (monoamine alkaloid found in the shrub Catha edulis, known as khat in its natural form ). In its “raw” form, it can look like the pinkish and white gravel at the bottom of many fish tanks, hence it being called “gravel”. It also looks like bath salt, but is more likely called that because “bath salts” are recreational designer drugs sold as disguised bath salt. The crystals can be crushed into a powder and snorted like cocaine or diluted in a fluid, like dextrose, and then injected. It can be eaten and liquid flakka can even be smoked in e-cigarettes. Smoking it is one of the most dangerous ways of taking it. You know those jelly babies, rolled in superfine sugar? Flakka, instead of sugar, was recently found on jelly babies in Durban, South Africa!

As a stimulant, with the combined effects of cocaine and methamphetamine, flakka can cause hyperstimulation, irritation, as well as panic, paranoia, and hallucinations. These effects can be absolutely horrific. Users are known to become violent and aggressive and they can be prone to injure themselves and others. Some people describes others high on flakka as seemingly posessed by demons. Have a look at these distrubing You-tube videos:

  1. Warning: Explicit content. If you do not want to see a naked man, skip to the next clip.
  3. Although the clip mentions it is in Durban, I doubt that it is the case.
  4. Religious perspective of Reverend Michelle Hopkins Mann

People mostly use flakka for the feelings or intense excitement and happiness. It makes users more alert and increases productivity. It is also known to give people nearly inhuman strength and endurance. A flakka high can last anything from 3 to 4 hours, but its effects can linger a day or more afterwards. It stays in the system for about 2 to 3 days and can, in this period, be detected in the system by specialised bath salt (Novel Psychoactive Substance [NPS]) urine tests. Cases have been reported where it took five days for the drug to be flushed out of the body.

One of the factors that makes flakka so dangerous, is that it increases body temperature to as much as 40 degrees celcius. That is about 2 degrees higher than what can be considered as having a temperature in adults. This significantly increased temperature can be the cause of kidney failure. Due to it hightening blood pressure, users run the risk of having heart failure, a heart attack, a stroke or an aneurysm. Seisures are also a common side effect. Flakka use can be fatal. Insidences of both homocide and suicide in flakka users have been reported. Some perpetrators ended up taking bites of flesh out of their victims.

Some professionals in the field refer to it as more of a poison than a drug. There is also a very fine line between using flakka and dying from it.

Treatment for flakka abuse or addcition is the same as for cocaine and other drugs, like tik (methamphetamine). A detox period will be followed by intense therapy, mostly Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and a 12 step program. Due to its mental health effects, dual diagnosis treatment may be necessary.


  1. 21 November 2017
  2. 21 November 2017
  3. 21 November 2017
  4.—ACCSA-Addiction-College: 21 November 2017
  5. 21 November 2017