Club drugs is the generic term for psychoactive drugs, usually illegal, that are used by participants of the rave and dance club and recreational drug subculture.
The most commonly used club drugs are MDMA (ecstasy), LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, rohypnol, GHB, and methamphetamine. These substances are illegal and strictly controlled. Each drug has different effects and possible complications.
MDMA, or ecstasy (also XTC, X, or E) is a semisynthetic drug that was patented in 1914 by the Merck Corporation. The drug was not used for six decades, until interest in it gathered in the 1970s and 1980s, stimulated in part by psychologists and therapists who began experimenting with its possible uses in treating some psychological conditions including anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress syndrome. Users reported powerfully euphoric or ecstatic effects of the substance, and use of the drug spread into the recreational drug subculture. Due to health concerns over use of the drug, it was made a controlled substance in the 1980s, but manufacture and use of the drug has continued. Raves are events in which participants take the substance and dance to rhythmic, stimulating music. Some scientists have classified the drug as a hallucinogen, while some psychologists have termed the drug an empathogen, meaning it increases a sense of empathy for self and others when used in a controlled environment. MDMA is the most commonly used drug in the rave and dance club subculture.
MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) has stimulating effects in the body, and can create changed perceptions of time, environment, and tactile senses. It can cause an increase in body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. In some cases it can cause unpleasant feelings of anxiety and paranoia. It works in the body by affecting the serotonin system in the brain. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being and elevated mood. MDMA causes the brain to be flooded with the neurotransmitter, which creates a feeling of euphoria in the user. After the effects of the drug wear off, a temporary decrease in serotonin levels is caused in the brain, and users may report feelings of mild depression for days or weeks after ingestion.
MDMA is generally taken in doses of 125 milligrams, although effects are observable by ingestion of as little as 60 milligrams. It is generally swallowed in tablets or capsules. Effects begin about one hour after ingestion, reaching a peak after three or four hours, and fading after about six hours. Users commonly ingest a second dose to prolong the effects.
Dangers associated with the drug include increased body temperature, that may be complicated by hot environments and physical activities such as dancing or immersion in hot tubs or saunas. Dehydration is a common occurrence with the drug. It can also cause increased heart rate and blood pressure. There is debate in the scientific community about the effects of the substance on the brain, due to a lack of human studies. Some animal studies have shown that MDMA can negatively affect the serotonin system in the brain and damage neurons. Studies have implied that long-term MDMA users may have decreased memory function. Other problems associated with the substance arise when the chemical is adulterated by more dangerous substances such as methamphetamines and toxic compounds, and mixing MDMA with other intoxicants including alcohol and cocaine. MDMA is dangerous for people with heart disease or high blood pressure, and may increase or aggravate symptoms in people with psychological disorders.
LSD (lysergic acid) and psilocybin mushrooms are psychedelic or hallucinogenic substances. Effects of these drugs range from euphoria to intense halluci-nations and distorted or enhanced perceptions. Dangers associated with these substances include temporary loss of physical and emotional control and psychological distress.
Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) is a powerful sedative that has been termed a "date rape" drug. It can cause "anterograde amnesia" meaning that those taking the substance may lose memory of events occurring under its effects. It may be fatal when combined with alcohol and other depressants.
GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a substance with euphoric, depressant, and anabolic (body building) effects in the body. Overdoses can cause seizures and comas, and the substance can be dangerously combined with alcohol and other sedatives. It has also been termed a date rape drug, due to its powerful sedative effects when combined with alcohol.
Methamphetamine is a dangerously addictive stimulant, known as "ice" and "crystal" among users. It is taken orally, intranasally (through the nose) and intravenously. Effects in the body include an intense rush of euphoric feelings and stimulating effects, followed by an addictive need for more of the substance. It causes elevated heart rate and increased blood pressure. Research using animals has shown the substance can cause brain and nervous system damage. It has also been implicated in causing damage to the blood vessels in the brain, respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat, anorexia, and in extreme cases may cause heart failure and death. Emotional problems associated with use of methamphetamine include addiction, paranoia, anxiety, and insomnia. The use of methamphetamine has been growing in the United States throughout the 2000s.
Substance abuse is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV as occurring when: users take a substance in larger amounts or over longer time periods than intended; a persistent and unsuccessful desire to cease usage; spending large quantities of time procuring the substance; reduction in other social activities; continued use of a substance despite physical or emotional problems caused by the substance; increased tolerance of the substance; withdrawal symptoms or increased use of a substance to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment for problems associated with the use and abuse of club drugs include psychiatric, psychological, and substance abuse counseling, as well as emergency medical treatment for overdoses and complications.
Eisner, Bruce. Ecstacy: The MDMA Story. Ronin Books, 1993.
Holland, Julie, M.D. Ecstacy: The Complete Guide: A Comprensive Look at the Risks and Benefits of MDMA. Park Street Press, 2001.
Knowles, Cynthia. Up All Night: A Closer Look at the Club Drugs and Rave Culture. Red House Books, 2001.
Stafford, Peter. Psychedelics Encyclopedia. Ronin Books, 1992.
DanceSafe. 536 45th Ave., Oakland, CA 94609. 〈http://www.dancesafe.org〉.
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. 2105 Robinson Ave., Sarasota, FL 34232. (941) 924-6277. 〈http://www.maps.org〉.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. 6001 Executive Blvd., Room 5213, Bethesda, MD 20892-9561. 〈http://www.drugabuse.gov〉.
Anorexia— Eating disorder associated with extreme fluctuations and loss in body weight.
Hallucinogen— Substance that causes distorted perceptions and hallucinations.
Neurotransmitter— Chemical in the brain that assists brain function.
Psychoactive— Substance that effects emotional and psychological perception in the brain.
Clubs and rave scenes have been a popular part of American and European youth culture since the 1990s. The drugs people take as part of the club experience are known as club drugs. These drugs vary in terms of their effects and their toxicity . An important element of club drugs is novelty, so no list of club drugs can pretend to be complete at any time. Commonly used club drugs include MDMA, GHB, ketamine, Rohypnol, methamphetamine, and LSD. Users see most of these drugs as relatively benign compared to "older" drugs such as cocaine. This perception is often mistaken.
The history of much drug use in the United States is cyclical. For example, the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s was in fact the second cocaine epidemic in this century, the previous one having ended in the 1930s. In the 1980s, just as in the 1930s, users believed that cocaine was a safe drug. The later generation had no idea of the harsh lessons the earlier generation had learned about its effects. In comparison, club drugs are relatively new, so few have had direct experience with their negative consequences. Recreational use of MDMA, for instance, began only in the 1980s. But being new does not mean being safe. History suggests that such confidence in a drug's safety is unwarranted.
The psychoactive drug MDMA is a hallucinogen derived from amphetamine. Popularly called "ecstasy," it gives the user enhanced or increased feelings of emotional and physical closeness to others. Though it has a reputation as a benign "love drug," ecstasy has contributed to hundreds of deaths in its short time as an abused drug. It has also been linked to seizures as well as kidney and cardiovascular failure. Ecstasy has produced long-term damage to the nervous system in animals, and long-term use has resulted in damage to mental and emotional functioning in a number of humans.
Two popular club drugs, Rohypnol and GHB, have been used for more than mere recreational purposes. In a number of criminal cases, men convicted of rape were found to have given Rohypnol or GHB to their victims without their knowledge. Rohypnol, known as the "date rape drug," can be slipped undetected into an unsuspecting victim's drink. Rohypnol and GHB can impair a person's memory and cause unconsciousness, which makes the intended female target an easy victim for a prospective rapist.
Again, these drugs are fairly new to the world of recreational drug use, although Rohypnol belongs to the same class of drugs, the benzodiazepines, as Valium, a drug with a well-known history of abuse. This group of drugs is especially dangerous when used with alcohol, which enhances their effects as depressants . A person who takes these drugs and then drinks alcohol can end up in a stupor , with dangerously slowed breathing. The combination can in some cases cause coma and death. Like alcohol, GHB and Rohypnol seem to cause an increase in violent behavior in some users. These drugs have been linked to so many negative consequences that many countries have increased restrictions on their use. Both GHB and Rohypnol are illegal in the United States.
Unlike other club drugs, methamphetamine, a psychostimulant , is not new. In fact, "speed" has a long and well-documented history of abuse and toxic effects. Its appearance on the club scene seems to be linked to its low cost and the negative image of cocaine as an alternative stimulant. Ironically, methamphetamine is substantially more toxic to the brain and liver than cocaine, while sharing some of cocaine's potentially deadly effects on the cardiovascular system. Amphetamine use has also been linked to toxic psychosis, a condition in which an individual loses touch with reality due to the effects of a substance and may suffer from hallucinations and delusions.
Ketamine, another club drug often called "special K," is an anesthetic formerly used in humans but now largely restricted to veterinary use. Ketamine, like phencyclidine (PCP), can produce many of the symptoms of psychosis in humans, including hallucinations and indifference to pain or death. Previous generations often referred to PCP as "angel dust." Chronic PCP use has been associated with the development of long-term psychosis, and it is likely that ketamine will cause the same risk.
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide, often referred to as "acid") is another drug with a well-known history of misuse and abuse. Its major dangers lie in its hallucinogenic properties, which may cause users to do physical harm themselves or others. LSD also seems to worsen depression and psychosis. Outside of its intense and dangerous psychological effects, LSD has few side effects on the body.
Club drugs are not risk free, and the public is likely to face more examples of their dangers. The most dangerous aspect of the club drug phenomenon is that most club drug users mix several of these drugs, and may also use tobacco and/or alcohol. With such a variety of drugs being abused by individual users, toxic results are far more likely to occur. The long-term consequences of such multiple use are yet to be discovered.
Club drugs is a term that encompasses those drugs commonly abused within the context of the club and rave scenes which have developed over the past decade in the United States and Europe. Club drugs are a diverse group in terms of pharmacology, psychological effect, and toxicity. They form a unified grouping because of the context in which they are used, the clubs and raves that define turn-of-the-century youth culture. Because of the diversity and pleasure seeking inherent to the club world, no list of club drugs can pretend to be comprehensive but most lists include drugs like Mdma, Ghb, Ketamine, Rohypnol, Methamphetamine and Lsd. Most of these drugs are perceived by users as relatively benign compared to "older" drugs like Cocaine. As might be expected, this perception is often not borne out in reality.
Many observers of the history of drug use in the United States have noted the cyclical nature of patterns of drug use. Few today recall that the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s was in fact the second cocaine epidemic in this century, the previous one having ended in the 1930s. Indeed, the lack of a cultural memory of the lessons of the previous epidemic no doubt played a role in the reemergence of the belief that cocaine was a "safe drug" in the 1960s and 70s, a belief that had been popular in the early 1900's until certain less palatable realities began to sink in. Club drugs seem to fit this pattern insofar as the lack of direct experience with the negative consequences of their use (MDMA for instance was not recreationally used before the 1980s) imparts the belief that they are a safe means of entertainment. History suggests that such a view is unlikely to stand the test of time.
MDMA is new as psychoactive drugs go; it only emerged as a recreational drug in the mid-1980s. It is an Amphetamine derived Hallucinogen, sometimes described as an empathogen or entactogen due to the enhanced feelings of emotional and physical closeness to others it generates in many users. Although it has a reputation as a benign "love drug," MDMA has contributed to hundreds of deaths in its short time as an abused drug. It has been linked to seizures as well as kidney and cardiovascular failure. MDMA has produced long-term neurotoxicity in animals and a number of frequent human users have exhibited cognitive and emotional deficits.
Both rohypnol and GHB have gained notoriety as "date-rape" drugs due to their criminally abused propensity for impairing memory and inducing unconsciousness. Again, both are fairly new to the world of recreational drug use, although rohypnol belongs to the same class of drugs, the Benzodiazepines, as Valium, a drug with a well known history of abuse. These drugs are especially dangerous when used with Alcohol, which exacerbates their depressant effects often leading to stupor, respiratory depression, and in some cases coma and death. Like alcohol, GHB and rohypnol seem to cause an increase in violent behavior in some users. These drugs have been linked to such a disproportionate number of negative events that many countries have opted to increase restrictions on their use.
Methamphetamine is an exception to the rule that club drugs are new; it has a long and well-documented history of abuse and toxic effects. Its appearance on the club scene seems to be linked to its low cost and the present negative perception of cocaine as an alternative Psychostimulant. Methamphetamine is substantially more toxic to the brain and liver than cocaine, while sharing some of cocaine's potentially lethal effects on the cardiovascular system. Amphetamine use has also been linked to toxic psychosis.
Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic formerly used in humans but now largely restricted to veterinary use. Ketamine shares its major site of action with Phencyclidine (PCP) and, like the latter drug, can produce many of the symptoms of psychosis in humans including hallucinations and indifference to pain or death. Given that chronic PCP use has been associated with the development of long-term psychosis, it seems likely that this may prove to be a risk with ketamine as well. Ketamine is thought to have few other toxic effects.
LSD is another drug with a well-known history of misuse and abuse. Its major dangers lie in its hallucinogenic properties, which may cause users to physically harm themselves or others. LSD also seems to aggravate depression and psychosis. Outside of its intense psychological effects LSD has few, if any, physiological side effects even when taken at doses well in excess of those used recreationally.
Club drugs are hardly risk-free, and the next decade or so will probably provide the public with more evidence of their dangers. A particularly risky and difficult-to-analyze aspect of the club drug phenomena is that most club drug users use several of these drugs as well as Tobacco and alcohol. With such a variety of drugs being abused by individual users, toxic and other dangerous results are far more likely to occur and less predictable in terms of long-term consequences.
Richard G. Hunter