What are club drugs? Here’s a quick look

Chances are that most HIV clinicians live in or near a community where gay and bisexual men, youths, and others are using club drugs, placing themselves at greater risk of HIV infection. Here’s some information from the National Institute on Drug Abuse of Bethesda, MD, about the most common of these designer drugs and how they are used, how they affect users, and what their dangers are:


A powerfully addictive psychostimulant that affects the central nervous system, methamphetamine also is called speed, meth, chalk, ice, crystal, crank, and glass. It is a white, odorless crystalline powder that dissolves in water and alcohol and can be smoked, snorted, orally ingested, or injected. The drug alters moods and has the short-term effects of increased attention, increased activity, decreased appetite, euphoria and rush, increased respiration, and hyperthermia. Long-term effects include dependence and addiction, paranoia, hallucinations, mood disturbances, repetitive motor activity, stroke, and weight loss. Research shows that up to 50% of the dopamine-producing cells in the brain may be damaged after prolonged exposure to methamphetamine and that serotonin-containing nerve cells may be damaged even more extensively. The drug also can cause cardiovascular problems, such as rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, stroke-producing damage to small blood vessels in the brain, and hypertension.


Commonly called Ecstasy, 3-4 methylenedioxy-methamphetamine is a synthetic, psychoactive drug with stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. As a neurotoxic drug, MDMA can cause a sharp increase in body temperature and lead to cardiovascular system failure and muscle breakdown. MDMA research has found that the drug injures the brain in the serotonin system and can cause psychological problems, including confusion, depression, sleep problems, craving, anxiety, and paranoia. Physical side effects include muscle tension, teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, chills, sweating, and rapid eye movement. MDMA also may increase heart rate and blood pressure and cause an acne-like rash, along with increasing risk of liver damage.


Gamma hydroxybutyrate, also called soap, easy lay, and Georgia Home Boy, is a central nervous system depressant that was sold in health food stores until 1992 and is used by body builders to aid fat reduction and muscle building. When combined with methamphetamine, alcohol, and other drugs, GHB can cause a coma, seizure, nausea, difficulty breathing, and death. GHB, which results in disinhibition, also has been involved in date rape, poisonings, and overdoses.


An anesthetic, ketamine, also called Special K or vitamin K, causes dream-like states and hallucinations. Its more severe side effects include delirium, amnesia, impaired motor function, high blood pressure, depression, and potentially fatal respiratory problems.