Five things to know about Flakka, the so-called 'zombie drug'
Media headlines about a 'zombie drug' are making waves.
TimesLIVE spoke to Shaun Shelly‚ founder of SA Drug Policy Week and a researcher at the International Drug Policy Consortium‚ to find out what Flakka‚ the 'zombie drug'‚ actually is.
Flakka is not a zombie drug
Shelly says "Flakka is not a zombie drug‚ but it is not the safest drug either".
There has been much misreporting about it‚ including a 2016 incident in Florida in the US where a man killed a couple in their home‚ bit off one person's face and was allegedly on Flakka. This led to hysteria linking Flakka to cannibalism. But toxicology reports show this man had none of this drug in his system. "Don’t believe all the panic that is out there‚ but it doesn’t mean the drugs are safe‚" warns Shelly.
The problem with misreporting on drugs‚ he says‚ is that it creates "misinformation and the wrong reactions. It means we overreact to the drug and we don’t develop facts around it. Such inaccurate talk is not in anyone's favour."
Flakka is a synthetic stimulant and it has dangerous side effects
Flakka is a new‚ synthetic drug sometimes referred to as "bath salts". It is a novel psychoactive substance. It can lead to rising temperatures‚ a heightened state of awareness and a lack of sleep.
Flakka has an effect on the dopamine system and the noradrenalin system and can increase anxiety‚ but also make a person feel more alive.
It can cause psychosis‚ especially for people who have a predisposition for psychotic states‚ he says. This can be compounded by taking lots of different drugs at the same time and not sleeping or eating.
Why are there so many synthetic drugs like Flakka coming on to the market?
Shelly argues because drugs are illegal and unregulated‚ there is a lot of global evidence that more and more synthetic drugs are being created.
This to escape detection from authorities in blood tests or police searches. He says chemists making new drugs are not testing them on humans. Genuine medicines are first tested in mice but synthetic drugs go straight from labs to humans‚ he says.
"As chemists move further and further away from original synthetic compounds and develop new derivatives‚ they move into unknown territory. Synthetic drugs change rapidly and this makes it hard to know what they do to humans and what the long term effects are."
Drugs are illegal but people use them. Don’t take what you don’t know
Shelly says if you are going to take a drug‚ make sure you know what it is.
"Exercise extreme caution in taking untested drugs. These are synthetic novel psycho-active substances that can be dangerous and have unknown long term effects."
If drugs were legal people could take safer drugs
There is ample evidence that there are relatively safe drugs such as pure ecstasy and cannabis‚ which are fairly safe for most but not all people‚ says Shelly. But as drugs are illegal people use very dangerous drugs or contaminated drugs.
In the UK‚ when cannabis (dagga) was not decriminalised as requested‚ a new drug described as a synthetic cannabis called "Spice" came onto the market.
UK Psychiatry Professor David Nutt had warned that if cannabis was not available on a regulated market‚ people would take more dangerous drugs. This is what happened as Spice was developed. It is synthetic and deadly. In America‚ in states where they have clamped down on opiate painkillers due to addiction rates‚ people who don't take illegal drugs have turned to heroin and deaths have sky rocketed.
Nutt's extensive work has shown that ecstasy in its pure form is very safe if properly manufactured and non-contaminated.
Shelley believes evidence shows that if people could take safer drugs that were regulated‚ they wouldn’t turn to synthetic illegal contaminated drugs that are very unsafe such as Flakka .