Friday, September 18, 2015

What Flakka Can Do to You, and Why You Should Care

Dr. Nabil El Sanadi calls flakka "worse than Ebola--this is bioterrorism."
Flakka, AKA the "zombie drug" is a dangerous new designer drug that
Dr. Nabil El Sanadi likens to bioterrorism.
There’s a new designer drug in town in Broward County, Florida. Its called flakka, and it is rapidly reaching epidemic levels of usage in the Fort Lauderdale area. If you’ve never heard of flakka, think of it as a cousin to bath salts—one that teens are vaping directly into the bloodstream to get high.

“It’s worse than Ebola—this is bioterrorism,” noted Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, CEO of the North Broward Hospital District. El Sanadi has seen the effects of flakka first-hand: it’s so powerful, it can numb someone to the pain of a shoulder popping out of its socket.

The mind-altering substance has also been appearing in other parts of the country, such as Ohio and Texas. But flakka, also called “gravel,” has been a nuisance specifically in Broward County, where law enforcement and healthcare facilities are seeing about 20 cases a day related to it.


Your body on flakka


When on flakka, your body experiences an excited delirium that involves hyperstimuation, hallucinations, paranoia, aggressive behavior, and even self-injury in some instances.

But what’s especially dangerous about flakka is that its most dangerous form of consumption, vaping, is also the most popular form of consumption among teens. Vaping flakka is particularly popular because it doesn’t give off an odor, making its usage difficult to detect. When vaping flakka, the drug can go directly into one’s bloodstream, making it incredibly easy to overdose, according to NIDA. 

Even without an overdose, some sources report that the symptoms of use can persist for up to 30 days. There is no quick way to detox users, the only real option being heavy sedation and waiting for the drug to exit their system. Videos posted online have some comparing users to mindless zombies, frequently involving harm of themselves or others. Members of communities where flakka is running rampant say that they've even observed erratic behavior continuing for up to four to six months after use.

Flakka on the rise


Flakka appears to have first surfaced on the streets in 2013, when Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement crime labs only received 38 submissions for testing the drug. However, that number grew to almost 200 in 2014 and from there, to 275 in just the first three months of 2015.

How has flakka been able to spread so quickly? The key appears to be the compound from which it is made, called alpha-PVP. This chemical is a cousin of cathinone, the amphetamine-like drug found in bath salts. While the active ingredient in bath salts was officially banned in 2011, alpha-PVP was not. Therefore, it is legal in any state without its own ban.

Until a ban on alpha-PVP is put into place, it doesn’t appear that this situation will improve.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Carbohydrates Helped Human Brains Develop

A full paleo diet!
Image: Shutterstock
If you’re a fan of “paleo” diets, you might be in for some bad news: eating starchy foods was part of the reason human brains are so large. Meat-heavy diets have been around for years, but a recent trend has been to tie them to early human evolution, and argue that they are, therefore, better for us. The trend is largely based on science that suggests that eating meat, specifically cooked meat, was the key to developing larger brains, which in turn allowed us to develop language, civilization, and, my personal favorite, the internet.
However, according to a new study, while eating meat may have spurred brain development, eating carbohydrates is what allowed us to keep it going. The brain requires about 60% of the blood glucose that your body produces, and it’s much more efficient to give the brain what it wants by eating carbohydrates. Furthermore, low blood glucose levels during pregnancy and lactation can threaten the health of both mother and child. Starches, which are the principle source of carbohydrates, were readily available to early humans, and the development of cooking made digesting them much easier. And to top it all off, we developed salivary amylase genes to break down those carbohydrates. Our bodies, as they currently exist, evolved to eat both meat and carbohydrates, not one or the other. So why choose?

This new study gives us some important insight into the development of early humans. Since about 800,000 years ago, human brain size has been increasing, though obviously the most significant growth was earlier in the process. But that growth was facilitated by eating carbohydrates, which allowed for earlier brain development in fetuses, which in turn led to larger brains overall. The research also has implications for modern dieters as removing entire food groups from your diet, or even just severely reducing them, can have negative effects on your health. It’s important to think carefully about what we’re putting in our bodies—how it’s going to affect us, both in the short-term and the long-term.