We’re told all kinds of horror stories about drugs. We’ve all heard those scare stories about people frying their minds, jumping off cliffs, or breaking into murderous rages. We’ve heard those “reefer madness” stories that are usually so over-the-top that reality can never live up to them.
But flakka—the new synthetic drug that’s been said to turn people into zombies—is different. It’s a new generation of bath salts that, compared to other drugs, hasn’t spread that far. But the people who use it have gone on mad, violent, zombie-like rampages that make the worst drug stories your mother ever told you seem tame.
Flakka affects people in ways no other drug ever has. The things people do while high on it are so crazy that some of this might seem like a hyped-up scare story. But people filmed these things. The videos are here, and you can see for yourself just how dangerous the effects of this zombie drug really can be.
10 It Makes People Move Like Zombies
They call flakka “the Zombie Drug” for a reason. It’s the way people move when they’re on it. Their bodies jerk and contort in an unnerving and inhuman way, almost like a zombie.
When somebody takes too much flakka, the muscle fibers in their body start to dissolve into the bloodstream. Their bodies start moving uncontrollably. Sometimes, their heads will drop down below their shoulders; other times, their limbs will stiffen and shoot out. It’s like watching a marionette dance as its strings are cut or, perhaps, a glitch in a video game.
But it’s not just that the users look weird. Flakka activates the fight-or-flight response in a person’s brain, often turning them irrationally violent. And at the same time, it causes paranoid, delusional fantasies—meaning their brains just come up with reasons to start fighting.
In one case, a man on flakka just started destroying his own home. He tore up the furniture and violently rammed his own body into the walls, beating himself into a bloody pulp before the police even arrived. The police had to struggle to subdue him, and by the time they did, he had died.
The apartment looked like a murder scene. “If it wasn’t for the body cameras I’d probably have two officers in jail right now,” the investigator said, looking at the destroyed house and the battered body of a man who had beaten himself to death.
9 It Has Made People Kill
The best-known story connected to flakka is the story of Austin Harrouff, a 19-year-old boy who was caught chewing off his neighbor’s face and growling like an animal. The madness, paranoia, and superhuman strength he showed made people think he was on flakka, but in this case, toxicology tests showed he wasn’t on any drugs at all.
When it came out that flakka’s best-known murderer wasn’t on the drug, some people started saying the stories about it were overblown—but even if Harrouff wasn’t on it, there are plenty of other stories of people becoming murderers after taking the drug.
One man, named Leroy Strothers, grabbed a gun, stripped off his clothes, climbed up onto a rooftop, and opened fire on his neighbors. He’d taken flakka, he later told police, and became convinced that a Haitian gang was outside trying to murder his family.
Another man named Derren Morrison became convinced that an 82-year-old woman was a blood-soaked, murderous demon who was trying to kill him. He broke through her door and brutally beat her. The old woman was sent to the hospital. After three long, agonizing months, she died from the wounds he’d given her.
“[Flakka] actually starts to rewire the brain chemistry. They have no control over their thoughts. They can’t control their actions,” one expert explained. “It seems to be universal that they think someone is chasing them. It’s just a dangerous, dangerous drug.”
8 It Is Ten Times Stronger Than Cocaine
Flakka can make people dangerous, but what makes it really threatening is just how cheap and powerful it is. The drug is ten times more potent than cocaine, so strong that taking any more than 0.1 grams can cause an overdose.
Some people call it “$5 Insanity” because that’s the price you have to pay for enough flakka to affect you as much as $80 worth of cocaine. It’s an incredibly powerful drug that, like any drug, people enjoy taking—at first. But it’s also incredibly addictive and has the power to override a person’s reason and push them into taking more than they should.
When you take more than 0.1 grams of flakka, it gets a lot less fun. Your body temperature can go up as high as 41 degrees Celsius (106 °F). Your muscle fibers dissolve, causing spasms, cramps, and difficulty breathing. The beating of your heart becomes a struggle.
In dozens of cases over the few short years the drug has been on the market, people have died from overdoses. Some had heart attacks, some seizures, and some strokes, but one way or another, their hearts stopped beating.
7 It Can Stop You From Feeling Pain
Pain serves a purpose. When you get hurt, it’s your body telling you that something’s wrong and that you need help. It’s something that helps keep you alive, but with flakka, that doesn’t always happen, as the terrifying video above of a flakka abuser in Brazil shows.
The video made its rounds online after a man, high on flakka, showed up in a hospital with a gaping bullet wound in his face. Though he had an injury that, if untreated, could have killed him, he didn’t even seem to notice. He just walked around with his spine arched unnaturally backward, laughing and growling at the people who tried to help, looking like a man possessed by a demon.
It wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. In 2015, police in Florida had to stop a 17-year-old girl who was running down the streets covered in blood, screaming, “I am God! I am Satan!” She’d been cut, they later learned, when she jumped through the window of a stranger’s home. The family was inside when she came crashing through the glass and watched, in shock, as the bloodied girl leaped back out, started pounding against their car window, attacked a person on the lawn, and ran away.
6 It Created A Pandemic of Dangerous, Paranoid Streakers
At the height of the flakka craze, Florida newspapers were filled with stories about people running around the streets naked, usually from a paranoid delusion.
In one case, the police came out on a call to find a man named Kenneth Crowder with his pants at his knees, trying to have sex with a tree. When he wouldn’t respond, the officers tried to subdue him with a taser. Crowder, though, didn’t stop. He shouted at the officer that he was Thor, god of thunder, and charged him, scratching his face and even trying to steal his police badge to stab him with it.
In another incident, a 34-year-old man named Matthew Kenney was running naked through a busy intersection. When the cops caught him, he told them that an evil group had stolen his clothes and now were chasing him, trying to kill him.
He’d run into streets hoping that someone would run him over. “If I got hit by a car they would stop chasing me,” he told the officers. He didn’t care if he got himself killed. He told the police he would “rather die than be caught” by the twisted creatures chasing him in his own imagination.
5 Flakka Users Have Attacked Police Officers
People overdosing on flakka aren’t just violent; they’re completely fearless. They’ll do things that normal people would never even imagine doing—including attacking police head-on.
One man in Coconut Creek tried to run over a police officer. The officer got out of the way, but the flakka user still rammed into his car before fleeing at over at 160 kilometers per hour (100 mph). When they caught him, he simply apologized and said, “Flakka made me do it.”
That sounds crazy, but he’s not the only person to do it. Another man tried to climb over the 3-meter-tall (10 ft) security fence around a jail. It didn’t quite work; he slipped and impaled his buttocks on one of the fence’s spikes. His explanation, though, was that people were out there, trying to kill him, and his only hope was to go to jail.
And yet another man drove his car into the Indian River County Jail and, after wrecking his car, tried to climb over the fence. When the police caught him, he was tangled up in the fence’s razor wire. He told them that all he’d wanted was to visit his friends in jail.
4 It Gives Users Super Strength
Somehow, flakka seems to actually give users superhuman strength. Their brains get altered until they have that power a mother taps into when she gets the strength to a pull a car off her child, and that can make them incredibly dangerous.
A man named James West tried to break his way into the Fort Lauderdale police headquarters. After smoking flakka, he’d become paranoid that there 25 cars trying to chase him and run him over. He wanted the police to help him, so he tried to break down their front door.
West tried to smash his way through by kicking a hole in the hurricane-proof glass, smashing it with rocks, and tearing the door off of its hinges—and he almost succeeded. A detective in the office later said, “His power was so forceful that, when he pulled, you actually could see the doors shaking and him throwing the rocks that cracked the impact window.”
And he’s not the only person who’s been able to tear down doors. Another man in West Palm Beach wandered into a hospital and turned violent when security asked him to leave. In a flakka-induced rage, the man smashed through the hospital’s glass doors with his bare fists.
“That’s what that drug does. It totally alters reality,” an emergency physician named Dr. Nabil Ed Sanadi explained. “They’re just using their physical strength to escape from whatever their brain is telling them.”
3 It Makes People Suicidal
Flakka doesn’t just make its users a danger to others, though—it makes them a danger to themselves. The drug can overwhelm them with feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts. In fact, some of the first deaths from the drug came from suicides.
When John Hummel Jr. started taking flakka, he was overcome with paranoia. He started calling his mother with what she called his “crazy calls,” describing his delusions. “Somebody’s chasing me,” he told her once. “It’s the cops, they’re here, the helicopters are overhead.” His mother tried to help him, but she didn’t get to him in time. Soon, he was found in a hotel closet, hanging from the ceiling with an electrical cord around his neck.
People can lose all sense of the value of human life on the drug. One woman in Palm Beach, Florida, instead of giving up on her own life, gave up on her baby. High on the drug, she walked to Walmart, gave her one-year-old child a meal of bacon cheddar chips and a bottle of sprite, and abandoned him. She blacked out after that. Her next memory, she has said, was waking up in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot. By then, the police had already found her child, alone and crying for its mother in the Walmart’s parking lot.
2 You Can Order It Online
The really terrifying part is how easy it is to buy flakka. Restrictions are bit tighter than they used to be, but at its height, flakka could be ordered online with the click of a button.
The drug was sold online by about 150 different Chinese companies. The biggest is Kaikai Technology Co., a company run by a Chinese drug lord named Bo Peng, but he’s believed to just be one of many who put the drug up on online shopping sites. They charge $1,500 for a kilogram of flakka—which, usually, can make about $50,000 on the streets.
Up until recently, it was perfectly legal for them to sell flakka, too. That doesn’t mean they didn’t delve into the dark side of their business, though. When The New York Times contacted a flakka dealer and asked about the price of shipping, the customer service representative on the other end told them it depended: “I can handle this for you legally or illegally.”
The laws are getting a bit stricter now. The United States put a temporary ban on flakka in 2013 and is working on a full one, and even China banned it in 2015. But outside of the US and China, there are plenty of countries that are only starting to talk about it, which means that, in some places, it’s still a legal drug.
1 It Hasn’t Gone Away
The United States government is pretty proud of how it’s handled the flakka craze. They’ve managed to nearly completely dry out the supply in the US, which, to some people, means the problem is over. But if you look outside the US, it’s a different story.
Flakka use is starting to spread into Brazil, where it’s creating a whole new epidemic. In fact, three of the videos in this article are from Brazil and from this year. And it’s moving into other countries, too. Police in Scotland, Canada, Australia, Malta, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and almost every other country you can think of are starting to find flakka in drug busts and in the bloodstreams of criminals.
It hasn’t totally left the US, either. Though Florida is experiencing what police are calling a “drought” of the drug, they’re starting to see it crop up in other states around the country. And that has police worried—because this isn’t like other drugs.
As one Florida officer put it: “At the height of the flakka craze, you were almost praying for crack cocaine to come back.”