Club drugs (Forensic Science)
The group of substances that can be categorized as club drugs includes those that have historically been known as psychedelic drugs (that is, substances that alter perception and thinking) as well as so-called designer drugs, which are typically made by people who seek to profit from manufacturing drugs or are interested in finding substances that patrons of nightclubs or dance clubs can use legally to enhance their enjoyment. The creators of designer drugs often modify unregulated or illegal chemical substances to make them technically legal and thus suitable for such purposes. After problems emerge in connection with these substances, however, the legal system moves in to identify and classify them and assign legal consequences for their inappropriate use.
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Types of Club Drugs and Their Effects (Forensic Science)
Club drugs comprise a large number of different substances, and new drugs emerge every day as various ingredients are designed or redesigned. One of the most popular club drugs is methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, which is also known as ecstasy, X, or Adam. MDMA is different from so-called herbal ecstasy (other names include cloud nine, herbal bliss, and herbal X), which is also used as a club drug. MDMA is a derivative of methamphetamine, whereas herbal ecstasy is made from ephedrine or pseudoephedrine and caffeine. Other club drugs include ketamine hydrochloride (known as ketamine or special K), gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB, also known as Georgia home boy or liquid X), and rohypnol (known as roach, roche, or roofies). One long-established substance often used as a club drug is lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), which is also known as acid or blotter.
The effects of these drugs vary from substance to substance. Club drugs generally have no medical uses, although researchers have examined the usefulness of some of them in the treatment of problems such as trauma and antisocial personality disorder. As a group, these substances are known for eliciting positive feelings, such as happiness, euphoria, and a general sense of well-being. Users may also experience feelings of emotional clarity, a decreased sense of personal boundaries, and feelings of empathy with and increased closeness to others. They may...
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Risks of Use (Forensic Science)
These substances can be very dangerous when mixed with alcohol, energy drinks, herbal remedies, prescription medications, or other drugs, even over-the-counter drugs. The synergistic effects—that is, effects from drug interactions—may be multiplicative rather than simply additive, so that any of the drugs consumed together with other substances becomes much more pronounced in its effects. Because club drugs are not manufactured by regulated pharmaceuticals laboratories, their quality varies widely. Some may contain contaminants, and some may simply look like the drugs they are purported to be and thus may deliver unknown drug effects.
How and where these substances are used can mitigate or increase the risks involved. In a medical or laboratory setting, or in a private home under observation, relatively few risks may be present. In contrast, in situations involving crowds, heightened emotions, and the company of strangers, the risks of club drugs may be pronounced. At raves, for instance, users of club drugs may not realize they are becoming seriously dehydrated from continual dancing and other physical activity; this is one reason users often end up in emergency rooms.
The proximity of strangers may add to the risks involved in the use of club drugs in part because users may be easy targets for physical or sexual assault or property crimes. In addition, driving under the influence of these substances may result in...
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Legal Issues (Forensic Science)
The legal issues related to club drugs may be seen as a microcosm of the legal issues related to substance use in general, from the drugs’ creation to how they are used and their impacts. Manufacturing and distribution issues are relevant in that these drugs are unregulated substances that form the basis for an unregulated economy. Issues of drug identification and classification are also relevant in that the drugs often are designed around the law, challenging the process of identification as well as the issue of enforcement of laws concerning their use and sale. Harmful use related to impaired personal judgment and behavior is also important in terms of the accidents and related crimes it may cause, such as driving under the influence, assault, and property damage. Of additional interest to law-enforcement authorities is the potential for the use of these drugs by individuals wishing to harm others, as in the use of rohypnol and similar substances in sexual crimes.
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Holland, Julie. Ecstasy: The Complete Guide—A Comprehensive Look at the Risks and Benefits of MDMA. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions International, 2001. Presents data and arguments pertaining to the typical risks that may be expected from ecstasy and other club drugs. Includes discussion of research perspectives on the potential benefits of these drugs.
Jansen, Karl. Ketamine: Dreams and Realities. Ben Lomond, Calif.: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, 2004. Provides a historical perspective on the uses of ketamine and addresses the risks and benefits related to the drug.
Julien, Robert M. A Primer of Drug Action: A Comprehensive Guide to the Actions, Uses, and Side Effects of Psychoactive Drugs. 10th ed. New York: Worth, 2005. Reliable text provides full coverage of the topic, including information about how these drugs affect people from youth to old age.
Stafford, Peter. Psychedelics. Oakland, Calif.: Ronin, 2003. Provides broad descriptions of drugs that affect perception, focusing on what these substances may look like and how they may affect users. Also discusses the drugs’ individual and societal impacts.
Weil, Andrew, and Winifred Rosen. From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs. Rev. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Presents a down-to-earth discussion of drugs that affect the mind....
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Causes and Symptoms (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Less expensive, easily accessible, intoxicating drugs can often be attractive to persons wanting a momentary high or psychedelic experience, when they are at a rave, dance party, or bar with friends. This desire, combined with a belief that club drugs seem safe, leads people to trying club drugs and sometimes using them regularly. Club drugs are often first used in dance clubs or with friends. The belief that such drugs are natural forms of prescription drugs or are not necessarily always illegal fuels a misconception of their safety. Because these drugs are psychedelic, the reactions that individual users have can vary quite significantly depending on the user’s emotional state, concurrent use of other substances, underlying psychiatric conditions, personality, and past experience with the drug. Additionally, as they are street drugs, usually subject to some variability in their contents (such as being mixed with less expensive drugs), their quality may vary substantially. Finally, the individual situations where the substances are used can pose a variety of dangers of varying levels.
Club drugs go by many different names. They include substances such as gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB, Georgia Home Boy, Liquid X), ketamine hydrochloride (ketamine, special K), lysergic acid diethylamid (LSD, acid, blotter), methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, Adam, ecstasy, X), and rohypnol (roofies, roach, roche). They also include herbal...
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Treatment and Therapy (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
The effects of club drugs vary somewhat by substance; as such, treatment also varies by substance. In general, though, club drugs may tend to be seen more in emergency care settings than in primary health care settings. This is due to the fact that some of the problems that they cause, as a group, are often of an emergency nature. For instance, overdose, strokes, allergic shock reactions, blackouts, loss of consciousness, and accidents related to these conditions may require emergency care. Similarly, dehydration and heat exhaustion can result from prolonged periods of dancing or other physical exertion, as can occur in rave situations, and result in a need for emergency care. Finally, because date rapes have been known to occur with these drugs, particularly rohypnol, injuries due to sexual assault also may need attention.
Certainly the long-term impact of problems like those described above may require some type of psychotherapy. In addition, problems related to the abuse of or dependence upon club drugs would be addressed in much the same manner as for other substances of abuse. General addiction treatment would be advised. A special area of treatment may also include exploration of what it is like to deal with blackouts, amnesia, and flashbacks, as these are features that are commonly reported with psychedelic drugs.
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Perspective and Prospects (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Club drugs emphasize that there is a continuing need for the social awareness of the dangers of substances that may otherwise seem harmless. Just because a substance is not listed as an illegal drug does not mean that it cannot be dangerous. Any drug, whether sold over the counter, by prescription, or any other place, can be misused and can be dangerous. Where drugs are used, how much is used, with whom they are used, and with what they are used can all make a difference.
Club drugs are also a reminder that in efforts to find ways of joining with each other, finding community, and discovering themselves and their relationships, people will sometimes resort to experimenting with substances. While the experimental use of psychedelic substances for psychotherapeutic work continues and may prove beneficial to certain groups of patients, such work is balanced by investigations into neurology, physiology, psychopharmacology, and psychology to ensure that the benefits do not outweigh the risks. Continued exploration of the neuronal, developmental, social, and other health effects of using club drugs is likely, as they pose a significant danger to public health, particularly that of younger populations.
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For Further Information: (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Holland, Julie, comp. Ecstasy: The Complete Guide—A Comprehensive Look at the Risks and Benefits of MDMA. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions International, 2001.
Jansen, Karl. Ketamine: Dreams and Realities. Ben Lomond, Calif.: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, 2004.
Kuhn, Cynthia, et al. Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy. 3d ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008.
O’Neill, John, and Pat O’Neill. Concerned Intervention: When Your Loved One Won’t Quit Alcohol or Drugs. Oakland, Calif.: New Harbinger, 2003.
Stafford, Peter. Psychedelics. Berkeley, Calif.: Ronin, 2003.
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Club Drugs (Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol, and Addictive Behavior)
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