What Are Club Drugs?
Club drugs may be used for somewhat different reasons than other recreational drugs as several of their effects are reported to engender a sense of empathy and social communion among those using them.1 People use these drugs at raves and dance parties to expand their sensory experience. They believe that they feel more uninhibited and able to “feel” the music in a different way.
These drugs are popular among young people because they are cheap and easily accessible. They are typically distributed as pills, powders, or small vials of liquid. Many people that use club drugs believe them to be a safer alternative to hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine-possibly due to the pharmaceutical-like appearance of these pills.1
However, club drugs can be dangerous because there is no way for users to know what is in them. To extend their supply, many club drug dealers cut their drugs with cheap fillers. These fillers could be anything from caffeine to LSD to amphetamines.1
Club drugs are often taken together and/or mixed with alcohol and marijuana. Combining these substances increases the risk of overdose.1
A rave is a large dance party with a DJ who mixes (plays) an endless stream of loud, fast, electronic dance music (EDM). Raves are held at dance clubs, warehouses, music festivals, and other large venues. They often feature intricate light shows.
Drugs Used at Clubs and Raves
MDMA (Ecstasy, Molly)
MDMA, which is often called Ecstasy or Molly, produces euphoria, empathy, and sensory enhancement. Research suggests that it is available at around 70% of raves.1
Although it is now a Schedule I controlled substance, MDMA was originally developed as an appetite suppressant. In 1965, psychiatrists began using it as an “empathy agent.” Since the 1980s, however, its primary use has been recreational.1
MDMA is usually sold in small tablets, which sometimes appear in different colors or imprinted with icons or words.1 A large proportion of MDMA pills are cut with substances such as caffeine, pseudoephedrine, ketamine, and LSD.1,2 MDMA is also sold in power form and sometimes placed inside gel caps.2
Like most types of club drugs, people usually take MDMA orally. Tablets are swallowed as is, or “parachuted,” which means the user puts the pill inside a napkin, crushes it, then swallows the napkin. Some people take MDMA through the rectum to increase the effects. It is sometimes snorted or smoked, but injection is rare.2
GHB stands for gamma-hydroxybutyrate, which is a naturally occurring chemical found in human cells. Like alcohol and benzodiazepines, GHB acts as a central nervous system depressant. In the club drug scene, GHB is sometimes called “G” or “liquid ecstasy.”3
GHB has intoxicating, euphoric effects. But it is also a powerful sedative and has been implicated in sexual assaults.3
GHB used to be sold in health and nutrition stores. It was marketed as a supplement that could burn fat and build muscle. But because of reports of illness and abuse, the DEA classified it as a Schedule I controlled substance in 2000.3
Most GHB is sold as a clear, odorless liquid. It can be tasteless or taste slightly salty. People typically mix it with water or an alcoholic drink.3
Rohypnol is the brand name for flunitrazepam, which is a central nervous system depressant. It belongs to a frequently prescribed class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Other benzodiazepines, which doctors prescribe to treat anxiety and insomnia, include alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and diazepam (Valium).4
Rohypnol, which is 10 times more potent than Valium, is often prescribed in Europe and Latin America. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has never approved it, so it is not available as a prescription in the U.S. Like many other benzodiazepine drugs, it is currently classified as a Schedule IV substance. But as an unapproved medication, the penalties for possession and distribution of significant amounts are the same as those for Schedule I drugs.4
Rohypnol produces sedation, relaxation, and anxiety reduction. When mixed with alcohol, it can render users unconscious and cause amnesia. For this reason, Rohypnol, which is also known as roofies, has been used in sexual assaults.4
Rohypnol is sometimes found in a blister pack of small pills (like cold medicine). Since the late 1990s, the pills have appeared as oblong green tablets that include a safety dye. This dye turns light-colored drinks blue. Generic versions of this drug, however, may be white pills that contain no safety dye. The pills can be swallowed whole, or crushed and snorted.4
Ketamine is part of a group of drugs known as dissociative anesthetics. In the club drug scene, ketamine is commonly called “K” or “Special K.” It distorts perception of sights and sounds, making the user feel disconnected from reality and from their own body. Ketamine has legitimate medical uses in human and veterinary medicine and is therefore classified as a Schedule III non-narcotic substance.6
In 1970, the government approved ketamine for human use, and it became a popular battlefield anesthetic. Today, it is primarily used as an anesthetic in veterinary medicine.6,10
People abuse ketamine for its hallucinatory effects. It is typically snorted or swallowed, though it can be injected.6
Short-Term Effects on the Brain and Body
MDMA’s effects begin about 20-40 minutes after ingestion and peak after about 60-90 minutes. The effects can last for up to 6 hours.2
The short-term effects of MDMA include the following:1,2
- Enhanced senses
- Empathy or closeness toward others
- Distorted sense of time
- Clenching of teeth or jaw
- Muscle tension
- Lack of hunger or thirst
- Heat exhaustion
- Increased body temperature
- Increased blood pressure
- Blurred vision
The short-term effects of GHB are typically felt within 10-20 minutes after ingestion. After 45-90 minutes, the effects begin to decrease.3 The effects vary depending on the size of the dose.
Short-term effects of GHB include the following:3
- Extreme relaxation
- Reduced inhibitions
- Loss of coordination
- Decreased heart rate and respiration
The short-term effects of Rohypnol depend largely on the dose and can range from mild intoxication to severe respiratory depression. Effects can begin about 15-20 minutes after ingestion and continue for more than 12 hours.4
Short-term effects of Rohypnol include the following:4,5
- Intoxication that resembles alcohol drunkenness
- Increased or decreased reaction time
- Impaired mental functioning and judgment
- Amnesia (events that occur during intoxication are forgotten)
- Extreme muscle relaxation
- Reduced inhibitions
- Lowered blood pressure
- Respiratory depression
- Loss of coordination
The short-term effects of ketamine depend on the route of administration and the size of the dose. When injected, the user feels effects within 1-5 minutes. When snorted, the effects take between 5 and 15 minutes to be experienced. When swallowed, onset is usually 5-30 minutes after ingestion.6
The peak effects of ketamine last about 1 hour or less. But the person may continue to experience some of the effects for up to 24 hours.6
The short-term effects of ketamine can include:1,6
- Out-of-body experience.
- Muscle weakness.
- Loss of coordination and balance.
- Respiratory depression.
- Poor vision.
- Muscle twitches.
- Slurred speech.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Amnesia for events that occurred while on the drug.
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
Long-term effects of Ecstasy use can include:2
- Trouble sleeping.
- Cravings for Ecstasy.
- Extreme anxiety.
- Depletion of serotonin (a brain chemical that regulates mood, sexual desire, and sleep).
- Problems with memory and executive functioning.
Studies have found that consistent use of Ecstasy can cause cognitive problems in humans and animals, with possible permanent damage to memory and learning.1,11
Deaths related to Ecstasy use have also been reported. These were mainly caused by heatstroke from dancing in hot clubs for long periods of time without staying hydrated.2
Not much is known about the long-term effects of GHB. However, several sources claim that chronic use is associated with tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal.1,3,12
Long-term effects of Rohypnol can include:
- Sleep issues.
- Trouble with memory.
- Respiratory problems.
- Cardiovascular collapse.
In addition, frequent users put themselves at risk of injury because the drug affects coordination and motor control. Rohypnol can also lower inhibitions and impair judgment, which means someone under the influence may be more likely to have unprotected sex or find themselves in other precarious situations.13
Users who mix Rohypnol with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol, heroin, and other benzodiazepines are more likely to overdose.5
The long-term effects of ketamine use can include:1,7,15
- Deficits in attention, memory, and learning.
- Respiratory problems.
- Tolerance and dependence.
Risks of Club Drugs
Club drug abuse is risky, particularly when someone mixes the substances with alcohol. Many of the risks of club drugs include dangerous behavior and impaired judgment, as well as the following:1,2,7,10
- Coma and death
- Respiratory depression (slowed or stopped breathing)
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe dehydration or overhydration
- Increased vulnerability to sexual assault
- Amnesia (forgetting what happened while intoxicated)
- Accidents and injuries (due to loss of coordination and disassociation with environment)
- Risky behavior (unprotected sex, drugged driving)
- Getting a different drug than you thought and having a bad reaction
Are They Addictive?
It is not clear whether MDMA is addictive. Studies show that animals will self-administer the drug, which can indicate addiction potential. But they administer it to a lesser extent than other addictive drugs.9
Withdrawal symptoms have also been reported and include:9
- Loss of appetite.
- Trouble concentrating.
Chronic use of GHB can lead to physical dependence, and people may need to take higher doses to achieve the same effects (tolerance).1,3 When they stop their dose, chronic GHB users may experience withdrawal symptoms, including:1
- Treatment-resistant psychoses (rare).
Like other benzodiazepines, Rohypnol can lead to physical dependence, increased tolerance, and addiction.1,4 When chronic Rohypnol users suddenly decrease or stop their dose, they may experience the following withdrawal symptoms:1
- Tension and anxiety
- Muscle pain
- Sensitivity to light
- Numbness and tingling in the fingers and toes
- Possible seizures
Research studies suggest that repeated ketamine use can lead to tolerance and dependence. In some cases, users can develop an extremely high tolerance, to the point that they will no longer experience dissociative effects.6
Information about ketamine withdrawal syndrome is limited. But there are reports of chronic users experiencing severe symptoms. These ketamine withdrawal symptoms may be severe enough to warrant medically assisted detoxification.1
Recovery From Addiction
If you or someone you love is addicted to club drugs, many different types of treatment options are available. No single treatment program works best for everyone. Some forms of treatment, such as inpatient rehab, are better suited than others for people with more severe addictions.
- Inpatient detox: You spend several days at the facility while your body is allowed to process the remaining traces of the drug. You may receive medications to ease the symptoms of withdrawal, and you will be monitored 24/7 by medical professionals.
- Inpatient addiction treatment: These programs are best suited for people with serious addictions and mental health problems who don’t have a strong support system at home. You live at the facility and participate in individual and group therapy, among other types of treatment. These programs include medical care, and some may offer detox.
- Outpatient addiction treatment: Outpatient rehabilitation can take place in a relatively intensive setting or in a more casual manner. You may visit an addiction treatment center for one to several hours of counseling per week. Or you may visit a counselor or therapist at a private practice.
- 12-step programs: These are peer support groups where people can complete a structured recovery program with the help of others. Programs such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are free, widely available, and open to anyone looking to make a change.
If you or someone you love is abusing club drugs, a professional addiction treatment program can change everything. Break the cycle of drug abuse; get help today.
- Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American family physician, 69(11).
- Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Ecstasy.
- Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). GHB.
- Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol).
- Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug fact sheet: Rohypnol.
- Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Ketamine.
- Chakraborty, K., Neogi, R., & Basu, D. (2011). Club drugs: review of the “rave” with a note of concern for the Indian scenario. The Indian Journal of Medical Research, 133(6), 594-604.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). DrugFacts: Club Drugs.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. Ecstasy or MDMA.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. GHB.
- Nemours. (2014). Rohypnol.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of the Surgeon General. (2016). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of Abuse.
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