Fictional worlds often feature the living dead who walk slowly, move clumsily, talk incoherently, and wander around aimlessly and unconsciously. These corpses revived by witchcraft, infections, viruses, radiation, or other phenomena seem to not be aware of their actions. They can cause harm and even attack and infect others.
These otherworldly creatures are seen only in films and literature, but over recent years, they can be witnessed in real life. But instead of the result of magic or other weird causes, they become “real-life” zombies due to the use and abuse of the zombie drug.
The zombie drug, also known as Flakka or gravel drug, is a new synthetic drug that produces a catatonic-like state in some people. Its technical name is alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone or alpha-PVP, and it can be eaten, snorted, smoked, or injected.
True to its name, this is a type of drug that makes you act like a zombie. It works by blocking the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), this synthetic cathinone affects people in ways no other drug ever has. Users of this substance have gone on mad, zombie-like rampages that lead to shocking acts of violence.
The zombie drug has been classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I drug. It has no medical use at all, is dangerous to use, and unable to be used safely even with a physician’s guidance and supervision. Also, it is highly addictive, and abusing it for a long time can produce the symptoms of physical or psychological dependence.
This drug is similar to other substances, such as zombie dust and scopolamine. Zombie dust, or more commonly known as triazolam, is a mixture of Halcion and cocaine. It is a powerful sedative that was initially designed to treat severe insomnia. When combined with a potent stimulant, it creates a drug cocktail that shuts off the brain.
On the other hand, scopolamine is classified as a belladonna alkaloid and an anticholinergic medication. It leads to a “zombie-like” state that leaves users with no ability to control their actions when absorbed through their skin or blown into their faces. This drug is commonly used by criminals who intend to leave their victims at risk of being stolen, robbed, or killed.
Even at the low dose, users can experience various negative side effects, such as blurred vision, headache, dry mouth, and dizziness. Overdoses can lead to dilated pupils, confusion, a dangerously fast heart rate, toxic psychosis, vivid hallucinations, seizures or coma, and more.
What is Flakka?
Flakka drugs are popular among young people. This zombie drug in Florida made a man eat body parts of the victim he attacked. In Colombia, there have been reports of abuse of the Flakka zombie drug. Parties in the Coffee Growing region become erratic and uncontrolled after the guests have taken some Flakka.
Meanwhile, multiple sightings have been reported in Brazil. The Brazilian zombie drug made the users act like monsters: some bash their head on a bus windshield, another flail their arms and scream inarticulately in the back of a bus, and others even want to eat other humans—just like zombies.
What Are the Side Effects?
- It makes people move like zombies
Flakka makes the muscle fibers in the body dissolve into the bloodstream. Because of this, users jerk and contort in an unnerving and inhuman way as they experience muscle spasms, tremors, and seizures. Their bodies start moving uncontrollably, their limbs stiffen and shoot out, and their heads drop down below their shoulders.
- It makes people kill
The zombie drug rewires the brain chemistry, which is why the users have no control over their thoughts and actions. It activates the fight-or-flight response in a person’s brain. They experience psychosis, hallucinations, delusions, and severe delirium.
Delirium occurring as a result of Flakka may initially involve hyperactivity, confusion, and disorientation. On the other hand, some users also develop a hypoactive delirium, often referred to as a “zombie-like state.” They become catatonic and unresponsive.
This is why users become paranoid and think someone is chasing them. Their brains just come up with reasons to start fighting and become violent until they end up killing others. Worse, when they overdose, they aren’t just brutal; they gain super strength, stop their sensation of pain, and get completely fearless.
- It makes people unhealthy and suicidal
Flakka is ten times stronger than cocaine. Its immediate effects cause euphoria, feelings of invulnerability, extreme stimulation, and a loss of inhibitions.
Other negative side effects are increased or irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, boosted chances of getting a heart attack or stroke, high body temperature, excessive perspiration, and dehydration. Over time, it may cause respiratory distress or renal failure or significant brain swelling. It can also cause anxiety, panic attacks, aggressive behavior, self-mutilation, and suicidality.
How is Flakka Drug Manufactured and Distributed?
The NIDA and the DEA stated that the zombie drug is often manufactured in Pakistan and China. Manufacturing labs have also opened in the US because of its popularity and growing demand among the younger generation.
The process of manufacturing this drug is not controlled in any way. Ingredients also vary depending on the manufacturer, which means users have no idea about the safety and kind of drugs they are purchasing. However, some substances that are commonly added to the zombie drug are the following:
- Ecstasy (MDMA)
- Crystal meth (methamphetamine)
- Gelatin and sugar (for taste and appearance)
- Other synthetic cathinones
- Methcathinone (MCAT)
- Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV)
Furthermore, the distribution of this drug is not regulated. Therefore, it is difficult to identify the substance responsible for intoxication and predict its effects. To pass the security measures, these synthetic drugs are usually sold as incense to smoke or to be used in hookah pipes or mixed with vegetable products.
What Are the Complications of the Abuse of Flakka?
Zombie drug abusers who are agitated can go into a state called “excited delirium,” which is a medical emergency. When restrained patients under this state struggle to free themselves, they can flail, scream, and even have seizures.
As a result, their high body temperature and the extreme muscle overactivity can combine and cause hyperthermia, dehydration, and rhabdomyolysis, a process that causes muscle tissue to break down and release proteins and other cellular products into the bloodstream. This can impair the filtering function of the kidneys, lead to renal failure, and, eventually, death.
Is There a Way to Recover from the Zombie Drug?
Because of the accessibility of Flakka and the high doses to which people can be exposed, healthcare workers are finding ways to address medical emergencies caused by this drug and confirm the exact cause of the intoxication.
While zombie drugs are highly addictive and can cause severe intoxications, recovery is possible from this type of drug. Treatment for intoxication with these substances focuses on controlling complications of the patients, particularly in intensive care.