According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) club drugs are psychoactive substances that tend to be abused by teens and young adults at raves, dance clubs, nightclubs, bars and trance scenes. Some of the drugs in the psychoactive substances group include Gamma hydroxybutyrate (or GHB), Rohypnol, ketamine and even MDMA or ecstasy.
Certainly it is true that many persons who attend raves or go to dance clubs do not abuse these club drugs, but the allure of the exhilarating “high” the drugs impart and the fact that they are relatively cheap to obtain, are causing more and more people to try them out. Many users are unaware of the dangerous effects these substances can have on the mind and body.
Club Drugs Affect the Brain
Taking GHB in high doses may result in sleep, coma or death. Rohypnol, also known as a “date rape drug,” can produce anterograde amnesia, in which the victim or user is unable to remember anything they experienced while under the drug’s influence. Ketamine, when taken in low doses, results in impaired memory, attention and learning ability. In larger doses, ketamine causes hallucinations and dream-like states, while extreme doses can cause amnesia and delirium. Ecstasy can cause confusion, depression and severe anxiety, effects which may linger days or weeks after taking the drug. In addition, serotonin nerve terminals may be damaged as much as 6 to 7 years later. This is an area of active research.
Tolerance and Withdrawal
All the club drugs have varying levels of ability to produce cravings, result in increased tolerance so that the user requires more of the drug or more often in order to produce the same highs. Ketamine users may experience the same type of cravings and tolerance as users dependent on cocaine or amphetamines. GHB can cause withdrawal symptoms ranging from anxiety, insomnia, sweating and tremors. More severe GHB withdrawal reactions occur from persons who overdose from the drug, especially if used in combination with alcohol. Rohypnol, when chronically used, can produce tolerance and dependence. Ecstasy can be addictive in some people.
Club Drugs Affect the Body
Coma, seizures, nausea and breathing difficulties (when combined with alcohol), overdoses, poisoning, date rapes and deaths can occur following use of GHB. Rohypnol has the potential to be lethal when combined with either alcohol or other central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Ketamine in high doses can impair motor function, increase blood pressure to dangerous levels and cause potentially fatal respiratory problems. Ecstasy can have the same effects on the body as cocaine and amphetamines, and prove lethal.
Toxicity Levels, Chemical Impurities
Sources, chemicals, and potential contaminants used in the production and distribution of club drugs makes it very difficult for researchers and medical professionals to determine toxicity levels and medical consequences associated with use of the drugs.
Treatment for Club Drugs Is Limited
The NIDA reports that there is little scientific literature available on how to treat club drug abusers or those who have become dependent on club drugs. The sad truth is that there is no standard emergency room detection test for the presence of GHB, and since clinicians are generally unfamiliar with the drug, many cases of abuse or dependence are probably not recognized as such.
What is known is that GHB patients appear with problems that are diagnosed as severe enough that they are often referred for residential drug treatment programs. These drug rehab programs have reported good success in treatment for GHB abuse and dependence. The first step is always detoxification, managed by medications to help with the withdrawal symptoms and also to help control blood pressure.
Persons who have abused Rohypnol benefit from the same type of accepted protocol or treatment as for abuse to any of the benzodiazepines. In layman’s terms, this may involve a detoxification period of 3 to 5 days on an in-patient basis, and with 24-hour intensive monitoring by medical professionals. Withdrawal symptoms must be managed carefully, as benzodiazepine withdrawal can be life threatening.
In the cases of ketamine overdose, patients are cared for their acute symptoms, which often include problems with respiratory and cardiac functions. There are no antidotes to ketamine abuse and the majority of therapy is based on behavior modification and psychotherapy.
No specific treatment exists for ecstasy addiction or dependence. Following detoxification with the use of sedatives, patients do appear to benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy, a treatment that helps modify the patient’s thinking, behaviors and expectancies while also helping them develop new coping skills to deal with life stressors. There are no pharmacological ecstasy treatments currently available.
Ongoing Support Groups
Like all drug abuse treatment programs, club drug abuse and dependent patients are strongly encouraged to participate in and continue to attend drug abuse support groups. Recovery support groups appear to offer the best hope in long-term, drug-free living. GHB addiction cases often involve relapse, so work with a multidisciplinary group is considered essential.