The increasing legality of marijuana means one thing: Pot is very easy to buy and no longer cool to do. To fill this thrill-void, our country's idiots are turning to insane substances like krokodil, bath salts, jenkum, meow meow and now flakka, transforming into psychotic murder machines in the process. Or so local news would have us believe.
What is Flakka? What about Meow Meow? Are they for real? Is anyone actually doing them? Will they actually kill you? Here's your guide to the new generation of moral-panic death drugs.
These drugs all have a few things in common: wacky names, rock-bottom prices, and the ability to whip local news anchors (and audiences) into a complete frothing frenzy, regardless of whether anyone is actually doing them. But that doesn't matter: like plutonium, the mere possible existence of a Moral Panic Drug is enough to pose an existential threat to all of society's drug-horny teens and dirtbag adults.
Let's get high.
Flakka (2013 - Present)
What it is: Alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone, a synthetic stimulant
How it's done: Vaping, snorting, eating, smoking
Reported effects: Murderous rage, paranoia, ultra-violence, running around screaming
Is it real: Yes—multiple reported instances of individuals arrested while high on flakk
Peak year: 2015! NOW! RIGHT NOW! WE'RE SMOKING THIS SHIT TONITE!
Famous victim: Naked intersection guy
According to local news, Florida is now overrun by violent criminals juiced up on synthetic killing powder called flakka: "If you see a streaker running your way, keep in mind it has nothing to do with Spring Break and you need to get out of the way, fast," warns the Sun Sentinel's Daniel Vasquez. The message is clear—enter Florida at your own risk (the risk is death by nude drug murderer, and the chance is 100 percent).
Despite apparently being ripped out of the life of a Batman villain, flakka technically refers to a real chemical: it's the street name for alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PVP), a synthetic stimulant that's been abused recreationally for over a decade.
All good moral panic meme-drugs have multiple avenues of enjoyment, and flakka, a grainy, crystalline powder, can enter your bloodstream pretty much any way fathomable. It can be snorted, eaten, rubbed in your eyeballs, vaporized in an e-cigarette if you really want to max out your 2015 meme potential, possibly also looked at, listened to, etc., etc.
Sometimes flakka is called "gravel," which sounds cool but not as cool as flakka. A dose of flakka reportedly costs as little of $5, and will make you go completely fucking crazy with "super-human strength" and paranoia, according to Florida news outlets. Below is just a small sample of recent headlines:
- Man on “FLAKKA” tries to break into police headquarters
- Video Shows Fort Lauderdale Streaker After Smoking Flakka
- Naked Lake Worth Sniper Says He Was High on "Flakka," The New Incarnation of Bath Salts
- WATCH: Man on 'Flakka' impaled while trying to climb fence
Like any top tier meme-drug, stuck in a legal no mans land. The powders are only illegal at the state level in a handful of locales, though the Department of Justice issued a temporary ban on alpha-PVP late last year. It's unclear why people started smoking flakka, considering it basically plunges you into a toxic hell for days at a time. Just listen to this doctor:
"This is where the body goes into hyperthermia, generally a temperature of 105 degrees. The individual becomes psychotic. They often rip off their clothes and run out into the street violently and have an adrenaline-like strength, and police are called and it takes four or five officers to restrain them. Then, once they are restrained, if they don't receive immediate medical attention they can die."
On the other hand, gotta vape somethin'.
Bath Salts (2011 - 2013)
What it is: A family of synthetic stimulants called cathinones, similar to amphetamines
How it's done: snorting or eating
Reported effects: face-eating, head-buzz, blood-lust
Is it real: Yes, though horrible crimes attributed to bath salts have been overblown or false
Peak year: 2012
Famous victim: Homeless zombie target
Flakka's weird, violent older brother, bath salts roared into the national consciousness three years ago when a Miami man ate the face of a homeless person on the street before being shot to death by cops. It's unclear what it is about Florida that makes it synthetic psycho snort-powder ground zero—perhaps it's the sunshine or spicy cuisine.
Bath salts were impressive not just for the effects they caused in users—mania, paranoia, hallucinations—but for the varied user base. A surprising cross-section of American citizens decided it was cool to snort a packet of blue shit they bought on the interstate, from human crime meme John McAfee to celebrated author Cat Marnell.
An autopsy of the Miami Bath Salts Cannibal later revealed that he'd only been smoking weed, not bath salts, and was just a regular old Miami stoner cannibal, not a freakish bath salts-mad Miami cannibal.
But by then it was too late: bath salts were synonymous with gore, partying, and psychosis, and because they could be legally purchased at gas stations and head shops around the country (with cool brand names like "Sand Man" and "Ocean Snow"), they were the moral panic drug ne plus ultra. The fact that so many different chemical snortable-smokable-injectable compounds with so little in common were bundled together under the "bath salts" media panic only made them spookier. What was a bath salt? Was your baby boy snorting bath salts at school? Probably—and you'd only find out when he was chewing off grandad's nose.
Bath salts were, in that sense, the most democratic of all American designer drugs—the low cost of blue collar pot mixed with the mystique of rich man's cocaine mixed with the murder-causing of PCP and blood magic. Bath salts are currently illegal in most states, even if marketed as "not for human consumption," which is totally not fooling anyone anymore!
Jenkem (Mid 1990s - 2010)
What it is: Shit and piss and sludge water, fermented in the sun
How it's done: Huffed out of a balloon
Reported effects: Lightheadedness, low-grade euphoria, face-stink
Is it real: Not inside the United States, no
Peak year: 2007
Famous victims: Screaming parents, wasted local news budgets
This societal freakout wasn't caused by violent street episodes, but out of fear that our country's youths were huffing fermented human shit water. That's all jenkem is: human feces and water, bottled and left out in the sun until the resultant gasses fill a balloon. Then you suck the fumes out of the balloon, I guess. This is bonkers, which is what makes jenkem the perfect online meme: obscene, stupid, funny, and easily wielded against local news stations and school principals. While a 1999 BBC article ("Africa Children high on sewage") attempts (and largely fails) to establish that jenkem actually has some practitioners in the developing world, American use is undocumented and purely the stuff of message board pranks (and the local police departments that were duped by them, as seen above).
Krokodil (2009 - 2013)
What it is: Desomorphine, a relative of morphine, cut with household solvents
How it's done: injected, a la heroin
Reported effects: Heavy sedation, horror movie zombie flesh rot
Is it real: Possibly, but it might've just been a bad batch of heroin
Peak year: 2013
Famous victims: Amber and Angela Neitzel
Krokdil is the worst drug. It doesn't even matter if it's real or not—the idea that depraved needle junkies were injecting a mixture of dihydrodesoxymorphine (a synthetic painkiller) and lighter fluid, causing their flesh to rot away from the bone, is worse than anything you can imagine. The idea of krokodil is worse than, I don't even know—smoking blood? Snorting a baby? Even the name sounds like pure evil, which is probably why small town reporters ran wild with it. In the fall of 2013, a small sample of Illinois heroin addicts started showing up at hospitals with their flesh falling off of their bones. This affliction was quickly pinned on krokodil, a mythical street drug peddled by the lowest of the low in Russia, containing anything from paint thinner and gasoline to meth and cigarette lighter fluid, injected intravenously. Unsurprisingly, this fucks your body up almost immediately.
Online reports of Russian krokodil started popping up in 2011, fueled by the same sick interest that makes one gaze at Goatse or read about train derailments. Then, to our immense excitement, krokodil reached the United States two years later.
We were soon treated to the horror tale of the Neitzel sisters, two Illinois heroin addicts who claimed to have gotten into a batch of krokodil and spoke with Chicago's ABC 7 News:
"It almost starts like a burn from a cigarette," she said. "It starts purple and then goes into a blister after five or six days."
Amber Neitzel and her sister Angie Neitzel are heroin addicts. They're also two of the five confirmed victims of a heroin-like flesh eating drug called Krokodil, or crocodile, reported by St. Joseph Medical Center last week, the first confirmed cases in Illinois.
"I'm scared to death right now. I can barely leave my house," Angie Neitzel said.
Doctors say crocodile rots the skin from the inside out causing gangrene. Angela's was so advanced that she had to undergo emergency surgery last week to save her legs.
"I have to go to an infectious disease doctor, decide how much it's progressed and wind up doing skin grafts," Angie Neitzel said.
TIME soon declared krokodil the "world's deadliest drug," despite the fact that cocaine alone kills thousands in the U.S. every year. Say what you will about cocaine, but krokodil is much more interesting. And that name! "Krokodil." If it weren't real, we'd have to make it up. And in fact, there's good reason to think that we did make it all up: this past March, Illinois public health and law enforcement officials doubted whether there was ever a krokodil problem in their state to begin with. "That whole outbreak (in 2013) could have been one bad batch of heroin and that's it," one cop told the Chicago Tribune.
Meow Meow (2011 - PRESENT DAY)
What it is: Mephedrone, a stimulant powder that's like a cross between MDMA and coke
How it's done: Snort it, eat it, put it in a pill, smoke it, inject it, whatever man!
Reported effects: Grinding of teeth, face-melting (figuratively), good party vibes, violence
Is it real: Yes
Peak year: 2013
Famous victims: British teen who cut his own dick off, god damn
The top reasons to do some meow meow (the teen menace name for mephedrone) is because it has a rad name. It is the opposite of krokodil—cutesey, party-ready, and attractive in a pleasing powdered form. Anything that's fun to say is going to be popular. Meow meow. I wanna do some right now, frankly.
This is presumably what one London teen thought before popping meow meow, which allegedly resulted in him attempting to murder his mother before chopping off his own penis. Meow meow is a grey area legal high, banned in some jurisdictions but available online and at shady retail operations much in the same manner as bath salts (meow meow is sometimes sold as "ivory bath salts"). It's unclear whether this is narcotic nightmare has affected anyone other than the 19-year-old self-mutilator, but media reports have pegged meow meow as an illicit staple of the UK rave scene—probably because it's much easier to dismiss a bad MDMA trip as "probably meow meow" than it is to reconsider buying MDMA from some dude named Zack altogether.
None of these drugs need to be real. They only need to at once scare us and make us feel relatively responsible and superior while we're railing lines of coke, binge drinking, binge eating, and chain smoking.
Illustration by Jim Cooke