Guide to Club Drugs
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Club drugs are a class of mind-altering substances that got their name from being prevalent in the club and rave scene. A rave is an all-night dance party, typically attended by teenagers and young adults. Drugs are common at these events and used to enhance the overall experience. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) labels the following as club drugs:
- Ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA): also called Molly, the love drug, Adam, and X
- Meth (methamphetamine): known as crystal, speed, crank, ice, glass, and Tina
- Rohypnol: termed roofies, forget-me-pill, and la roche
- Ketamine: also called special K, vitamin K, cat valium, and K
- GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate): also known as grievous bodily harm, Georgia homeboy, liquid ecstasy, and G
- LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide): termed acid, yellow sunshine, and boomers
Club drugs are often swallowed, although they may be snorted, smoked, or injected as well. All of these drugs have the potential to be volatile when used recreationally and can have dangerous side effects from even one use.
LSD, meth, GHB, and ecstasy are all synthetic drugs created illegally in clandestine laboratories and sold on the street, at parties, on college campuses, or in clubs. Rohypnol and ketamine are sedative drugs with anesthetic properties that are commonly diverted and illegally dispersed. Many of these drugs are colorless, odorless, and tasteless. They may be added to drinks without a person’s knowledge and may therefore be used to facilitate sexual assault. Club drugs are a dangerous class of drugs, most of which have no accepted medicinal uses in the United States.
Who Abuses Club Drugs
In general, those between the ages of 18 and 25 typically have the highest prevalence of lifetime drug abuse, and club drugs are no exception. NIDA publishes data from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) that indicates over a quarter of this age group has used a psychotherapeutic drug for nonmedical purposes at least once. The NSDUH also found that MDMA was most commonly abused by those between the ages of 18 and 25, while LSD and methamphetamine were abused at slightly higher rates in individuals aged 26 and older.
A study of young adults (between the ages of 18 and 29) who frequented New York clubs was published in the Journal of Urban Health, and it found that 70 percent of study subjects admitted to using illicit drugs in their lifetimes and almost a quarter reported current or recent club drug abuse. The most commonly abused club drug was ecstasy. The report further broke down the population demographics into gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, finding that Caucasians abused drugs more often than other ethnic groups; heterosexual males and lesbian/bisexual women also abused club drugs at higher rates than gay or bisexual men, and heterosexual women abused these drugs the least.
Club drugs are often sold as liquid, tablet, powder, or dissolved onto blotter paper. They may be colorful or even candy-like in appearance and appeal to a younger crowd. Club drugs may be abused for their hallucinogenic or dissociative properties, as sexual enhancement drugs, as a method of staying awake for longer, and for their stimulant effects. All of these drugs can create a rush of some of the brain’s neurotransmitters that signal pleasure, creating a “high” that users may be looking for.
These drugs may be viewed as relatively harmless and not a big deal to just use or try one time. Unfortunately, these drugs can be highly unpredictable. As they are often mixed with alcohol or other drugs, they can have a range of unintended side effects and even potentially lead to a life-threatening overdose or drug addiction.
Types of Club Drugs
In general, all club drugs may cause euphoria, erratic behavior, psychosis, hallucinations, anxiety, depression, panic, and potentially short-term memory loss. Drug paraphernalia may be tangible signs that a person is abusing club drugs. In the case of this class of drugs, this may include pacifiers, surgical masks, squares of brightly colored paper, menthol inhalers, direct evidence of drug residue, or vials of liquid, capsules, tablets, or powder. Individuals using club drugs may sleep at strange times and for longer or shorter than normal. Appetite may also be affected. Mood swings, bizarre behavior, or actions that are out of character may signify drug abuse as well.
Specific club drugs may have different and individually recognizable effects. These are outlined below.
One of the more popular club drugs, MDMA is both a stimulant and a psychedelic drug that elevates heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, while also altering a person’s perceptions and enhancing the senses. It increases a person’s energy levels, decreases the need to sleep or eat, and lowers inhibitions. Sexuality and empathy are also elevated under the influence of MDMA. Individuals may feel close to others and really want to touch and be touched while taking it. Alertness, muscle tremors, teeth clenching, hyperthermia, and blurred vision may also be signs of MDMA intoxication.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that MDMA takes effect within about a half-hour of ingesting the drug and wears off after about 4-6 hours, although some of the effects may linger longer. Ecstasy/MDMA is considered a Schedule I controlled substance by the DEA, meaning that it is classified as illegal with no approved or accepted medicinal uses in America.
Another form of MDMA that has appeared in recent years as a supposed “pure” form of MDMA is called Molly. According to the DEA, all of the Molly seized in the past several years in New York actually only contained 13 percent pure MDMA on average. As published by CNN, most of the drug was actually made up of other chemicals. Molly is synthesized in illegal labs, many of them in China, and may contain any number of dangerous chemicals or toxins, making the drug very dangerous and the side effects difficult to predict.
Another stimulant drug that either comes in powder or capsule form, or in what looks like glass rocks called crystal meth, methamphetamine also increases the functions of the central nervous system, decreases appetite and sleep needs, and heightens energy levels, focus, excitability, and physical activity. A meth “high” can last as long as 12 hours, the DEA reports, and may be recognizable by frenzied activity levels and euphoria.
Meth impairs a person’s decision-making abilities and cognitive functions and may increase the odds that they will engage in behaviors that could be deemed risky or dangerous. Body temperature can be raised to dangerous levels. Chronic users may experience psychosis, agitation, aggression, hostility, paranoia, fear, anxiety, hallucinations, delusions, and become violent.
Often referred to as the “date rape drug,” Rohypnol has no legal or approved uses in the United States and therefore is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the DEA. Rohypnol may be slipped into a person’s drink with the intention to incapacitate the person in order to sexually assault them. The drug acts as a sedative and produces temporary amnesia. When abused intentionally, it may produce a high and impair judgment and reduce a person’s inhibitions.
As a sedative, Rohypnol slows down mental functions, reaction times, anxiety levels, and can make a person drowsy. Rohypnol is a benzodiazepine drug that decreases some of the functions of the central nervous system like blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate. It may be taken with other drugs in an to attempt to counteract some of their effects or with alcohol to enhance intoxication. Combining Rohypnol with other substances is a dangerous practice, however, that can increase the risk for overdose and other negative side effects.
Ketamine is largely used legitimately in veterinary practices as an injectable anesthetic. It is considered a dissociative anesthetic drug that also has hallucinogenic effects when used recreationally by humans. It can detach a person from reality, pain, and the environment. It may take effect rather rapidly and wear off in 30-60 minutes, the DEA publishes, which is much shorter than the “trip” induced by other hallucinogenic drugs.
There are typically four different types of experiences when taking ketamine. The first is called “K-land,” which is a colorful and rather mellow experience, while a “K-hole” refers to an out-of-body type of experience. “Baby food” is when an individual reverts to an infant-like state and experiences inertia. When someone goes through what is termed the “God” experience with ketamine, they believe that they have met God. Individuals may become sedated, unresponsive, salivate, tear up, have dilated pupils and involuntary eye movements, be immobile, have visual and auditory hallucinations, and muscle stiffness while taking ketamine.
GHB may come in a liquid or powder form. It is abused for the euphoria it produces, the ability to enhance the effects of other substances, to increase libido, or to build muscle mass. It may also be used as a “date rape drug” for the suggestibility, sedation, and amnesia it can produce. GHB is often combined with alcohol to increase intoxication, which can also increase all of the potential negative side effects of both substances.
GHB is considered illegal in the United States and classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the DEA. The DEA reports that GHB starts working within 15-30 minutes of taking it and lasts 3-6 hours. Nausea may be common in low doses, and at higher doses, GHB may produce visual hallucinations and excited behaviors. GHB acts as a central nervous system depressant, slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing anxiety. It may cause confusion and temporary memory loss.
Acid is a hallucinogenic drug that is generally abused orally. Within an hour or so of taking the drug, an LSD “trip” may start. Visual hallucinations, distorted reality, and altered perceptions of time, space, body image, sounds, shapes, depth, touch, and movement may be common side effects, per the DEA.
An “acid trip” may different for each individual. Some may experience positive sensations while others may become agitated and anxious. Dilated pupils, raised body temperature, dry mouth, tremors, sweating, increased blood pressure and heart rate, numbness, nausea, sleeplessness, and a lack of an appetite may be additional signs of LSD intoxication.
Individuals under the influence of LSD may engage in dangerous behaviors or injure themselves unintentionally due to the impaired cognitive abilities and distortions of reality the drug can produce. An LSD trip may continue for hours, and individuals may even experience “flashbacks” months or days later.
Potential Consequences of Abusing Club Drugs
The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported that in 2011 there were over 133,000 visits to emergency departments (EDs) for adverse reactions to club drugs. Methamphetamine and ecstasy were the top two drugs cited in the report for ED visits involving club drugs that year.
Club drugs may cause individuals to become impaired and get into dangerous situations. Questionable sexual encounters, accidents, or injuries may be potential consequences. Dehydration, sleep deprivation, and unhealthy weight loss may be side effects of club drug abuse as well.
In general, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) lists the following as potential negative side effects of abusing club drugs:
- Respiratory issues
- Teeth grinding
- Uncontrollable body movements
- Irregular heart rate and blood pressure
Overdose is a real risk for individuals taking a club drug, as these drugs are often combined with other substances or not “pure” to begin with. An overdose may be recognized by extreme confusion, drowsiness or loss of consciousness, nausea and/or vomiting, agitation, restlessness, tremors or seizures, muscle weakness, and possibly psychotic side effects. Heart rate, respiration levels, body temperature, and blood pressure may be elevated or decreased to extreme levels that may result in stroke, heart attack, respiratory distress, coma, or even death.
Regular or repeated use of club drugs can create additional problems and may lead to depression, anxiety, psychotic effects, cognitive deficits, and potentially addiction. Drugs alter a person’s brain chemistry, and over time, these changes may become somewhat fixed, making it difficult for a person to continue to feel pleasure or function normally without the drugs.
Drug dependence is also often coupled with withdrawal symptoms when the drugs are removed. These may include depression, anxiety, tremors, sweating, insomnia, gastrointestinal upset, memory problems, irritability, restlessness, muscle aches, irregular heart rate and blood pressure, and drug cravings. Someone who suffers from addiction to a club drug likely cannot control their use of it and may end up taking higher doses of the drug or taking it for longer than they intended. Multiple attempts may be made to stop taking the drugs, and individuals may suffer from shame or guilt at their inability to do so.
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Getting Help for the Abuse of Club Drugs
There are multiple options and levels of care available for individuals struggling with club drug abuse or addiction. Outpatient treatment programs can be flexible with a person’s existing schedule, as therapy and counseling sessions fit in where and when needed. Residential treatment programs provide a complete and highly structured level of care that may be beneficial for individuals battling addiction or drug dependence.
NIDA reports that supportive care and often detox services may be the primary treatments for club drug dependence. Medical monitoring and mental health support can be vital during detox, as the drugs are safely processed from the body and brain. Medical detox can provide the highest level of support and care, often using medications to manage symptoms of withdrawal. A medical detox facility can provide a safe and secure environment that can facilitate physical stability.
Behavioral therapies can help individuals to delve into the potential triggers that may have incited drug use and a desire to escape reality in the first place. Clients can learn new ways to cope with stress and manage emotions that don’t involve substance abuse. There are many potential reasons that a person may turn to drugs or suffer from addiction, and therapies can help identify these root causes and work to overcome them.
Communication tools and other helpful life skills are taught in group therapy sessions, and these skills can be further enhanced during individual therapy sessions and with homework assignments. Family therapy, counseling, and educational opportunities can help to ensure that the person’s entire support system is on the same page and working toward recovery together. Support groups and relapse prevention techniques also aid in sustaining a long and healthy recovery from club drug abuse and addiction.