FLAKKA! (and other failures of the alleged profession of journalism)

Apr 20 2015 Published by under alpha-PVP, Bath Salts, Cathinone, Drug Abuse Science

Flakka is just the latest in a long line of stimulant drugs that can, in some very rare cases, result in astonishing public behavior.

Such as running nude through the streets to escape "unknown people trying to kill him".

Such as trying to kick in the door of a police station to get IN so as to escape cars that were supposedly chasing him.

Such as trying to shoot oneself on a rooftop, naked.

Such as trying to have carnal relations with a tree after proclaiming oneself to be Thor.

These stories are like crack to the mainstream media. They have been telling these stories for years, encompassing public scares over PCP, crack cocaine and methamphetamine over the decades past. More recently we've seen these types of stories about synthetic cathinones, in particular under the generic term "bath salts".

Sprinkled amongst the stories about classical psychomotor stimulant effects, we have stories of overdose involving synthetic opioids, MDMA and/or Molly and stories of adverse psychotropic effects of synthetic cannabinoid products. I've addressed some of these issues in prior posts and for today I want to discuss the stimulants of more traditional effect.

My greatest frustration with the reporting is not actually the breathless sensationalism, although that runs a close second. The biggest problem is the lack of verification of the bizarre behavior (or overdose) being associated with ingestion of the drug that is alleged in the initial reporting. I have not see one single verification of alpha-PVP in the body tissues of these recent Florida cases where the subjects reported consuming Flakka. We still do not know exactly what drugs were consumed by the 11 Wesleyan University students who became ill enough to hospitalize. We don't know what caused the death of Kimchi Truong at last year's Coachella music festival.

Oftentimes there are multiple media reports which, to their credit, mention that toxicology testing will take some weeks to verify. And yet. Rarely is there ever a follow-up accounting. And when there is a followup, well, it gets very poor penetration and people often parrot the wrong information even years later.

The Florida Causeway Cannibal is a case in point. At the time of the initial event it was almost universally reported to be due to "bath salts", i.e. MDPV. Toxicology reporting found no sign of any synthetic cathinone in Mr. Eugene.

It is long past time for us to hold the media as accountable for accuracy and followup on drug-related stories as we do for, say, sports reporting.

Now, there are a couple of bright lights in this generally dismal area of news reporting. Here's a local story that reported MDA, not MDMA, was at blame for a death (although they still screw up, MDA is not a "parent" drug of MDMA). In 2013 there was followup in three music festival deaths in New York to confirm MDMA, methylone and the combination of the two caused the three fatalities. We need this kind of attention paid to all of these cases.

Getting back to the current media storm over "Flakka", which is alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PVP), I have a few links for you if you are interested in additional reading on this drug.

@forensictoxguy posted a list of scientific papers on alpha-PVP at The Dose Makes the Poison blog. It is not a very long list at present! (Marusich et al, 2014 is probably the place to start your reading.)

The Dose Makes the Poison discussed alpha-PVP back in early 2014....this is not a new 2015 drug by any means.

Michael Taffe from The Scripps Research Institute [PubMed; Lab Site] gives a preview of a paper in press showing alpha-PVP and MDPV are pretty similar to each other in rat self-administration.

There was also a post on the Taffe blog suggesting that alpha-PVP samples submitted to ecstasydata.org were more consistently pure than MDPV and some other street drugs.

Wikipedia, NIDA brief

Jacob Sullum has written a pretty good Opinion piece at Forbes Fear Of Flakka: Anti-Drug Hysteria Validates Itself.

Review of the above information will help you to assess claims in the media that Flakka is "[insert more addictive, more dangerous, more powerful, worse] than [insert bath salts, MDPV, methamphetamine, cocaine]".

tldr; It isn't.

It will also assist you in coming to an understanding that Flakka is likely to be just as addictive and problematic as these previously sensationalized stimulants.

tldr; It is.

In my view, the scope of the Flakka problem over the coming years will be dictated by user popularity and availability, and not by anything particularly unique about the molecular structure of alpha-PVP.

25 responses so far

  • I wonder if it would be a lot safer for people who want to use stimulants like these if they could obtain known chemical entities of confirmed purity and defined dose? I also wonder if there would be a lot less demand for the more dangerous of these kinds of drugs if the less dangerous ones could be obtained as known chemical entities of confirmed purity and defined dose?

  • Dirk Hanson says:

    Been this way ever since somebody fell out a window on LSD 50 years ago....

  • Philapodia says:

    I imagine the people who use these types of chemicals aren't going to look for a FDA approval on their vials/bags. Also, I would bet that there would be a significant number of users who would view "approved" chemicals with distrust. You can trust your dealer (he/she is cool), but the guvment...

  • drugmonkey says:

    Alcohol and extra-medical prescription opioid use falsify your suggestions, PP. likely with these FlakkA cases the users have been repeatedly dosing which again shows that unknown drug concentration is not the issue.

  • becca says:

    If a story "Such as trying to have carnal relations with a tree after proclaiming oneself to be Thor. " is not crack to you, I don't want to know you.

    But yes. I'd imagine this is about as obnoxious as people mixing up bacteria and viruses to a microbiologist.

  • Dave says:

    I wonder if it would be a lot safer for people who want to use stimulants like these if they could obtain known chemical entities of confirmed purity and defined dose?

    This is the thinking in places like Amsterdam, where nightclubs often have areas where you can get your ecstacy pills etc tested for purity before you pop them. Better to do that than have people dropping down dead on the dance floor.

  • drugmonkey says:

    That presumes that pure Ecstacy is somehow safer, Dave, which is not really the case.

  • GM says:

    Does this have anything to do with Waka Flocka?

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    "Alcohol and extra-medical prescription opioid use falsify your suggestions, PP."

    How so? With regard to the former, isn't it safer that we don't have fuckeloades of drunks going blind or dying from drinking adulterated home brew moonshine? What's your argument about the latter? My understanding is that a lot of the ODs are people who couldn't keep getting scripts and so had to resort to street drugs of unknown potency.

  • Ola says:

    The only thing these stories make clear, is that the single deciding factor determining the popularity of a drug, both with users and the media, is its name. Forget structure, forget actual effects, a cool sounding name is what draws them in - speed, ice, ecstasy, special-K, bath-salts, flakka etc. Even Huxley in Brave New World knew he was onto a good thing with soma.

    I'm surprised "para" has not been coined thus far, for a para-substituted ring based drug of abuse (runs away to lab to create first batch of para).

  • drugmonkey says:

    You are being intentionally obtuse PP but I will humor you.

    This discussion is, at present, about acute effects of drug intoxication. Flamboyant behavior in the case of Flakka and, to lesser extent, death in the case of MDMA and related drugs.

    Your suggestion is that if drugs were pure or of known content, this would make the problems disappear.

    The vast majority of alcohol consumption in the US is 1) of pure EtOH in terms of psychactive content and 2) of well known concentration/amount certified by government regulations and afaik universal vendor compliance.

    Despite this, the number of adverse outcomes of excessive EtOH consumption abound. Including bizarre behavior and run-ins with the law not too different from the ones mentioned in this post for Flakka. Including overdose death, as it happens. Including nonfatal but serious injury at, as ill-luck would have it, Wesleyan University.

    Oxycontin and other prescription opioids are likewise "pure" products of known dose/content. And yet, overdoses from non-medical use of these drugs have grown steadily over the past decade. Not from people resorting to street heroin, from the Rx meds themselves.

    I am curious, however, given the well established risks for cocaine and methamphetamine and the legality of nicotine and caffeine, what possible compound of the class represented by Flakka comes to your minds as being a safer alternative?

  • physioprof says:

    Your suggestion is that if drugs were pure or of known content, this would make the problems disappear.

    No, my suggestion is that the problems would be less dire. My suspicion (biased by my own experiences, for sure), is that availability of pure MDMA of defined dose would be safer and reduce demand for unknown weird mad scientist shittio.

  • drugmonkey says:

    and it would also cause more people to use it because it is perceived as safe. again, see Rx opioid abuse and overdose. see the general correlation of trends for perceptions of risk and use rates in the Monitoring the Future data.

    I'll agree with you that the PMMA deaths would probably go away in your glorious future of legalized, cheap MDMA at the corner bodega.

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    How about the model for tobacco, where the use (in developed countries at least) has dropped significantly over the past few decades despite being legal and available at every corner store? Legalize the drugs, but emphasize the health problems.

  • ginger says:

    The Amsterdam nightclub testing model doesn't assume pure $DRUG is safer than impure - it assumes that taking $DRUG assuming you're aiming to take $DRUG, is safer than taking a mystery substance - bath salts, Drano, acetaminophen, polar bear liver - when you're aiming to take $DRUG. Which is much in line with the notion that it would be more responsible for the media to report "X took a substance still under analysis" or "Y took an unknown substance" than "X took $DRUGSTREETNAME" when X actually took Godknowswhat while aiming to take $DRUGSTREETNAME.

  • frendly feind says:

    i agree with this wholeheartedly, except for one statement that puzzles me: "MDA is not a 'parent' drug of MDMA." I am not a chemist, and I don't know if "parent" is a technical term, but in at least some of the classic syntheses of MDMA such as those by Shulgin, isn't MDMA the last step in a process of which a prior step is MDA? And doesn't that make MDA something like what people think "parent drug" means?

    For example, the first synthesis listed here from PIHKAL comes from MDA: https://www.erowid.org/library/books_online/pihkal/pihkal109.shtml

  • drugmonkey says:

    It implies MDA isn't retailed intentionally and sought intentionally by users. In my day it certainly had it's own fans. Perhaps things have changed.

  • drugmonkey says:

    JB- tobacco is still a huge killer of people. Large numbers of addicts. This is your dream outcome? That we should promote? Have you been asleep during the past 3-4 decades of hugely expensive public effort to make that tobacco use drop significantly? Can you not, for example, see the pro-cannabis industry following the same playbook of denialism and "healthy use" promotion pioneered by Big Tobacco?

  • drugmonkey says:

    "Reach for Flakka instead!" Proffe-Badger Industries campaign of the future.

  • anon says:

    RE: Effects of legalization:

    Take an example from legalization of marijuana in the US. Expect marijuana to be merged and highly marketed with tobacco, alcohol, and food products. The highly innovative food and tobacco industries have been planning for decades, apparently:


  • frendly feind says:

    I see what you're saying, though in my lexicon "parent drug" implies something that people do take on its own and can also be further synthesized (as khat is a "parent drug" to the cathinones, or cocaine is a "parent drug" to crack or freebase), in contrast with something like "precursor substance," which would not be something people take on its own. That language works for me, but this is all a very minor semantic point & I do think people still take MDA on its own, presuming they can have enough confidence in their supplier to know what they are getting... (at least that stuff can be judged with widely-available reagent tests, unlike a lot of the newer things out there).

    A funny thing about "flakka" is that if my memory serves, alpha-PvP was first widely released as a usable substitute when MDPV was made illegal, and that on bluelight, etc., it was widely described as being significantly LESS powerful than MDPV. I don't recall ever reading anyone there saying, as they do in the current media storm, that it is much more powerful than MDPV.

  • drugmonkey says:

    What do you think "speedy" versus "dopey" ecstasy means in this focus group report?


  • frendly feind says:

    many kids do not understand the general principle that drug names are supposed to pick out specific substances, chemicals and plants, and take them instead as generic labels, a lack of understanding taken advantage of or even promoted by scammy dealers? "ecstacy" means "these pills that fuck you up in any number of ways and you take at raves" rather than "MDMA"? a sucker is born every minute?

    back in my day, we were certainly subject to the question of how much strychnine and amphetamine were "laced" into our blotter acid, based on how good of a trip we had or whatever...

    "bath salts" was pretty much promoted as a label of this kind--"white powder that acts something like coke/meth and might contain freaking anything"

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  • Dallas Latham says:

    This is what always happens when " illicit drugs " are the culprit. There are side effects, serious, if not fatal side effects or secuelae to every ingestible, injectable, smokable, edible anything. All you have to do is ask the question from those who are not experiencing tree sex, sniper's, and Volkswagen's chasing them naked through streets!!! What is fun about it? If the adverse reaction's were the rule, the " epidemic " would die quickly. The " you never know " fear factor can be said for my next trip out in the car!!!! I find it amusing that with a " fat mother fucker " epidemic right in front of their eye's, they choose to make flakka the terrifying object d' jour!!! When the medical costs of food addiction come home to roost and begin to effect productivity, standard of living, and of course the profit margins of insurance companies and big pharma, that's when you'll begin to see the highly addictive substances known as Captain Crunch, McDonald's , Fry The Fuck Out Of Everything Lobby and High Fructose Corn Syrup really hit the air waves. I don't see the DEA busting grocer's , school board's, or corporate executives for a worldwide conspiratorial criminal enterprise. I like the occasional Snicker bar but I am not stupid enough to realise 17 of them for lunch might not have been that much fun when I report for my gastric bypass and dialysis.

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