Club Drugs: Get Educated on Their Use and Abuse
By Joyce Heid
The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines ecstasy as “a state of being beyond reason and self-control.” Never before has a drug been so aptly nicknamed. Ecstasy is one of several “club drugs” that first became popular at parties called raves several years ago.
Raves are dance parties that originated in Europe in the mid-1980s and spread to the United States shortly thereafter. Popular among teenagers, the parties take place in warehouses or dance clubs and last until early morning. Club drugs common at raves have taken the place of alcohol as the substance of choice. They induce a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli such as music and lights as well as provide a burst of energy for dancing. Because these drugs are sold at lower dosage levels, many people believe that they are not addictive and do not possess as high a risk as the drugs of earlier generations. This is untrue. Club drugs are very addictive and come with their own set of risks.
What’s worse, just because your child is not hanging out at a warehouse at 2 a.m. does not mean he or she has not been exposed to club drugs. Today, club drugs are making appearances at high school and even middle school parties.
Most Popular Types
There are many types of club drugs. Some of the most popular are ecstasy, ketamine, rohypnol and GHB.
- Ecstasy is a hallucinogenic amphetamine sometimes called X, XTC, Adam, Eve or E. It is closely related to the drugs methamphetamine and mescaline. Sold as a powder or a tablet, it is sometimes stamped with popular logos, such as the Flintstones or Smurfs. It is known as the Hug Drug or the Love Drug because it relaxes the user, eliminating anxiety and producing a general feeling of well-being. This is in addition to the sensory stimulation. The effects last about four to six hours and are produced when the drug stimulates the brain to increase the supply of serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters.
- Ketamine is an anesthetic currently matching the popularity of ecstasy. Known as K, Special K or Vitamin K, it stimulates breathing and heartbeat while giving users a detached or disconnected feeling from everything around them. The effects are similar to LSD or PCP, but they only last about an hour (instead of several hours). It comes in a powdered form, which is usually snorted or in a liquid form, which is often added to drinks.
- Rohypnol has been spotlighted in the media for its use as a date rape drug, but it is also popular with club drug users. Also called Roofies, rophies or roaches, the drug produces muscle relaxation, reduces anxiety and induces sleep. The effects last four to six hours, and often complete or partial amnesia occurs.
- GHB, or gamma hydroxy butyrate, was originally sold as a dietary supplement years ago, until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned it. It is now popular in the club scene because it increases the supply of dopamine to the brain. If taken in moderate doses, the user experiences a feeling of relaxation and euphoria similar to alcohol. High doses can induce a deep sleep, also giving it the reputation of a date rape drug. It comes in a clear liquid form that is often mixed with soda or fruit juice to conceal its metallic taste.
While they may not produce the same overdose effects of the drugs of the Rock ‘n Roll generations, these Generation-X drugs have their own serious and potentially deadly side effects.
One of the most common side effects produced by ecstasy is hyperthermia. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that regulates body temperature. Ecstasy blocks the serotonin, so when it is used while engaging in vigorous physical activity, such as dancing, the body temperature can rise to dangerous levels—even as high as 110 degrees. This can cause loss of consciousness, seizure, hallucinations, tachycardia (extremely rapid heartbeat) and even death due to kidney or heart failure brought on by hyperthermia and dehydration. (Water is usually sold at raves to help replenish lost fluids and prevent dehydration.)
Many club drugs produce similar side effects when used. Ketamine, rohypnol and GHB all carry the risks of amnesia, confusion, rapid mood swings and aggressive or violent behavior. Overdoses can cause respiratory depression, coma and death. All of these drugs are potentially addictive.
Many teenagers are under the impression that, if they use one of these drugs only a few times, there are no long-term side effects. This is also untrue. Sleeplessness, panic attacks and paranoia can persist for months after brief use of the drugs. There can be irreversible brain damage, impairing the neurotransmitters responsible for mood, emotion and pain from functioning. Motor coordination, memory and the ability to learn can also be permanently affected.
Your Child at Risk?
Is your child at risk of being exposed to club drugs? In recent years, abuse has risen among younger teens. In a 2001 State of Maryland drug survey, 7.6 percent of Baltimore County tenth graders said they had used ecstasy—and that increases to 19.7 percent of twelfth graders. Even 3.3 percent of eighth graders have reported trying the drug.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the use of marijuana, cocaine and heroin has decreased or stabilized nationwide over the past few years. However, the use of club drugs has increased dramatically among the high school teens surveyed. This is a dangerous trend parents need to be aware of.
And evidence of drug use may not be what you expect. Roach clips and bongs are the drug paraphernalia of yesteryear—replaced, believe it or not—with pacifiers, candy and glow sticks. Pacifiers and candy (such as Tootsie Pops) are popular because ecstasy can cause users to grind their teeth. Sucking or chewing on something can prevent this. Glow sticks are often used because of the increased visual stimulation resulting from using the club drugs.
Experts suggest beginning a dialog with your children about drugs when they are 8 years old. The sooner they are educated, the less likely they will believe the fallacies that contribute to the use of these drugs. It is important for children to know all of these drugs are illegal and can produce serious long-term—and potentially fatal—reactions. BC
The following organizations can provide important information about drugs and drug abuse.
American Council for Drug Education, .
National Institute on Drug Abuse, .
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, .
Students Against Destructive Decisions, .
Drug and Alcohol Information and Treatment Referral Hot Line, 800-662-HELP.
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependents Hope Line, 800-475-HOPE.
Test Your Knowledge of Club Drug Trivia
Many of the popular club drugs originated with a medical purpose. Guess which drugs match the following statements.
- Veterinarians use this drug as an anesthetic for small animals and sometimes by surgeons in surgery involving children. Veterinary hospitals are frequent targets of break-ins by people attempting to steal the drug.
- Marriage counselors originally used this drug in the 1970s to help couples release their inhibitions and promote open communication, but due to side effects this practice was short-lived.
- Currently used in Europe as an anesthetic and as an aid during childbirth, this drug has also been used to treat insomnia, narcolepsy and alcoholism.
- Originally, this was a popular drug souvenir for American visitors to Mexico when it was legal to return with a 90-day personal supply to treat insomnia. It became illegal to possess it in the United States since the passage of the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention Act. It has never been sold legally in the United States.
(Answers: A. Ketamine; B. Ecstasy; C. GHB; D. Rohypnol)
The Baltimore County Bureau of Substance Abuse offers a free book for parents, Straight Talk, Street Drugs. For this book and other information, call 410-887-3828.