Beware of the Dangers of Club Drugs
By Meghan Fay, Assistant Editor

Incoming college freshman are currently attending summer orientation nationwide. For those entering college in an urban environment one topic colleges and universities are not shy of addressing is the danger of “club drugs.” One negative effect these drugs can have on users is an increased vulnerability for date rape. 

Club or party drugs such as MDMA (Ecstasy), GHB, Rohypnol, ketamine, mathamphetamine and LSD are gaining popularity among young adults at all-night dance parties such as “raves” or “trances,” dance clubs and bars. The misconception that exists about these drugs is that many young people think these drugs are harmless. However, research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse has shown that the use of club drugs can cause serious health problems, and in some cases even death. 

Because some club drugs are colorless, tasteless and odorless, they can be added unobtrusively to beverages by individuals who want to intoxicate or sedate others. In recent years, there has been an increase in reports of club drugs used to commit sexual assaults.

According to information from The Anti-Drug, a drug information website located at, no club drug is benign. Chronic abuse of MDMA, for example, appears to produce long-term damage to serotonin-containing neurons in the brain. Given the important role that the neurotransmitter serotonin plays in regulating emotion, memory, sleep, pain and higher order cognitive processes, it is likely that MDMA use can cause a variety of behavioral and cognitive consequences as well as impair memory.

According to Helen Stubbs, Communications Coordinator for the Higher Education Center, educating college students about drug use is positive, but hasn’t been shown to solve the problem. In her opinion, the best approach is a combination of education and efforts to change the environment, which includes everything from options students have for extracurricular activities to strict school policies.

A central feature of the Higher Education Center’s work is the promotion of multiple prevention strategies that affect the campus environment as a whole and can, thereby, have a large-scale impact on the entire campus community. “Educate students about the dangers of club drugs, but an examination of school policy where drugs are concerned is also warranted,” said Stubbs, who advises colleges to raise the academic standards so weekends don’t begin on Thursdays and tests and papers are scheduled on Fridays.

At Boston University where the student environment is a combination of the campus and the city, orientation for incoming freshman touches on a variety of issues. Specifically, the PEN (Peer Education Network) Players tackle health and social issues relevant to all college students, such as alcohol and drug use, during a skit every orientation session. “We want to make them (incoming freshman) aware of potential situations,” said Carolyn Norris, Director of the Boston University Wellness Center. “It helps make them aware and encourages them to not put themselves in situations that make them particularly vulnerable.”

If students accept a drink at a party they have no way of knowing what is in it, which is dangerous. “Somebody could put something in there,” said Norris, who advises students to be aware and careful. Students should, “watch out for themselves while they’re out and should watch out for their friends as well,” she said.

Being aware of what to watch out for is also a key to safety. The following is information gathered from The Anti-Drug regarding club drugs.

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What is Ecstasy?
What is GHB?
What is Rohypnol? 
What is Ketamine?
What is Methamphetamine?
What is LSD?

What is Ecstasy?

MDMA, called Ecstasy, XTC, X, Adam, Clarity or Lover’s Speed on the street is a synthetic, psychoactive (mind-altering) drug with hallucinogenic and amphetamine-like properties. Its chemical structure is similar to other synthetic drugs, which are known to cause brain damage. According to information from the Anti-Drug, proponents of the drug claim that MDMA can make people trust each other and can break down barriers between therapists and patients, lovers and family members. 

Health hazards of MDMA include:

  • Physical and psychological symptoms. Many problems users encounter with MDMA are similar to those found with the use of amphetamines and cocaine. They are:
  • Psychological difficulties, including confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety and paranoia during and sometimes weeks after taking MDMA (in some cases, psychotic episodes have been reported).
  • Physical symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, faintness and chills or sweating.
  • Increases in heart rate and blood pressure, a special risk for people with circulatory or heart disease.
  • Long-term effects. Recent research findings also link MDMA use to long-term damage to those parts of the brain critical to thought and memory. It is believed that the drug causes damages to the neurons that use chemical serotonin to communicate with other neurons. 
MDMA is also related in structure and effects to methamphetamine, which has been shown to cause degeneration of neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine. Damage to these neurons is the underlying cause of the motor disturbances seen in Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms of this disease begin with lack of coordination and tremors, and can eventually result in a form of paralysis. 

What is GHB?

Gamma-hydroxybutic acid or GHB, is a compound that was initially used by body builders to simulate muscle growth. In recent years it has become popular as a recreational drug among club kids and partygoers.

This “designer” drug is often used in combination with other drugs, such as ecstasy. GHB is synthesized from a chemical used to clean electrical circuit boards, and is available in clear liquid, white powder, tablet and capsule form.

GHB is odorless and nearly tasteless. Users report that it induces a state of relaxation. The effects can be felt within 5 to 20 minutes after ingestion and the high can last up to four hours. 

The Food and Drug Administration banned GHB in 1990 after 57 cases of GHB-induced illnesses (ranging from vomiting to respiratory problems, seizures and comas) were reported to poison control centers and emergency rooms. The drug was only permitted under the supervision of a physician. Since then, the drug has been implicated in several deaths. Anyone who possesses, manufactures or distributes GHB could face a prison term of up to 20 years.

GHB users risk many negative physical effects including vomiting, liver failure, potentially fatal respiratory problems and tremors and seizures, which can result in comas. GHB has reportedly been used in cases of date rape. Because it is odorless and tasteless, it can be slipped into someone’s drink without detection.

What is Rohypnol? 

Rohypnol has been a concern for the last few years because of its abuse as a “date rape” drug. People may unknowingly be given the drug which, when mixed with alcohol, can incapacitate and prevent a victim from resisting sexual assault. Also, Rohypnol may be lethal when mixed with alcohol and/or other depressants.

Rohypnol produces sedative-hypnotic effects including muscle relaxation and amnesia. In Miami, one of the first sites of Rohypnol abuse, poison control centers report an increase in withdrawal seizures among people addicted to Rohypnol.

Rohypnol is also called “rophies”, “roofies”, “roach”, “rope” and “the date rape” drug.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine hydrochloride, or “Special K,” is a powerful hallucinogen widely used as an animal tranquilizer by veterinarians. Users sometimes call the high caused by Special K, “K hole,” and describe profound hallucinations that include visual distortions and a lost sense of time, sense, and identity. The high can last from half-an-hour to two hours. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports that overt effects can last an hour but the drug can still affect the body for up to 24 hours.

Use of Special K can result in profound physical and mental problems including delirium, amnesia, impaired motor function and potentially fatal respiratory problems.

Special K is a powder. The drug is usually snorted, but is sometimes sprinkled on tobacco or marijuana and smoked. Special K is frequently used in combination with other drugs, such as ecstasy, heroin or cocaine. 

Liquid Ketamine was developed in the early 1960s as an anesthetic for surgeries, and was used on the battlefields of Vietnam as an anesthetic. Powered Ketamine emerged as a recreational drug in the 1970s, and was known as “Vitamin K” in the 1980s. It resurfaced in the 1990s rave scene as “Special K.”

What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is an addictive stimulant drug that strongly activates certain systems in the brain. Methamphetamine is closely related to amphetamine, but the central nervous system effects of methamphetmine are greater. Both drugs have some medical uses, primarily in the treatment of obesity, but their therapeutic use is limited.

Street methamphetmine is referred to by many names, such as “speed,” “meth” and “chalk.” Methamphetmine hydrochloride, clear chunky crystals resembling ice, which can be inhaled by smoking, is referred to as “ice,” “crystal” and “glass.”

Health hazards include:

  • Neurological hazards. Methamphetmine releases high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which stimulates brain cells, enhancing mood and body movement. It also appears to have a neurotoxic effect, damaging brain cells that contain dopamine and serotonin, another neurotransmitter. Over time, methamphetamine appears to cause reduced levels of dopamine, which can result in symptoms like those of Parkinson’s disease, a severe movement disorder.
  • Addiction. Methamphetamine is taken orally, intranasally (snorting the powder), by intravenous injection or by smoking. Immediately after smoking or intravenous injection, the methamphetamine user experiences an intense sensation, called a “rush” or “flash,” that lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable. Oral or intranasal use produces euphoria – a high, but not a rush. Users may become addicted quickly, and use it with increasing frequency and in increasing doses.
  • Short-term effects. The central nervous system (CNS) actions that result from taking even small amounts of methamphetamine include increased wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, hyperthermia and euphoria. Other CNS effects include irritability, insomnia, confusion, tremors, convulsions, anxiety, paranoia and aggressiveness. Hyperthermia and convulsions can result in death.
  • Long-term effects. Methamphetamine causes increased heart rate and blood pressure and can cause irreveraible damage to blood vessels in the brain, producing strokes. Other effects of methamphetamine include respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat, and extreme anorexia. Its use can result in cardiovascular collapse and death.
What is LSD?

LSD, also known as “acid,” is odorless, colorless, and has a slight bitter taste and is usually taken by mouth. Often LSD is added to absorbent paper, such as blotter paper, and divided into small, decorated squares, with each square representing one dose. 

Health hazards include:

  • Physical Psychological short-term effects. The effects of LSD are unpredictable. They depend on the amount taken, the user’s personality, mood and expectations and the surroundings in which the drug is used. Usually, the user feels the first effects of the drug 30 to 90 minutes after taking it. The physical effects include dilated pupils, higher body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth and tremors.

    Sensations and feelings change much more dramatically than the physical signs. The user may feel several different emotions at once or swing rapidly from one emotion to another. If taken in a large enough dose, the drug produces delusions and visual hallucinations. The user’s sense of time and self changes. Sensations may seem to “cross over,” giving the user the feeling of hearing colors and seeing sounds. These changes can be frightening and can cause pain.

    LSD trips are long – typically they begin to clear after about 12 hours. Some users experience severe, terrifying thoughts and feelings, fear of losing control, fear of insanity and death, and despair while using LSD. In some cases, fatal accidents have occurred during states of LSD intoxication.

    Flashbacks. Many LSD users experience flashbacks, recurrence of certain aspects of a person’s experience, without the user having taken the drug again. A flashback occurs suddenly, often without warning, and may occur within a few days or more than a year after LSD use. Flashbacks usually occur in people who use hallucinogens chronically or have an underlying personality problem; however, otherwise healthy people who use LSD occasionally may also have flashbacks. Bad trips and flashbacks are only part of the risks of LSD use. LSD users may manifest relatively long-lasting psychoses, such as schizophrenia or severe depression. It is difficult to determine the extent and mechanism of the LSD involvement in these illnesses.
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