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What Are Club Drugs?

You walk into a room, and the music is blaring. Lights flash all around you, and as your eyes adjust, you can see swarms of people dancing. Seconds later, someone hands you a pill and tells you it's part of the experience.

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Substances often handed out at dance parties (also known as raves) are grouped under the club drug heading.

While it’s true that some people use these substances exclusively in clubbing formats, some people take them in other situations. You can use a club drug at home by yourself, and many people do.

How Club Drugs Got Their Start

Raves began in the 1980s, reporters say, and they’ve long been associated with drug use. Early rave promoters were irritated about the connection, as they felt the gatherings were really about music and community. But the drug/dance connection persists.

club drugs being sold

Some kids introduced to substances at a party go on to abuse these same drugs in different situations.

Kids who use club drugs at raves may have no idea what they’re taking. They ingest their drugs:

  • In handfuls. They’re handed pills by friends or strangers, and they swallow anything they’re given.
  • In drinks. Some club drugs dissolve in water, and they are odorless and tasteless. Would-be rapists choose their victims and slip the substances into open cups.
  • Via dealers. Rave drug suppliers may tell users what they’re selling. Their pills may contain something different.

The consequences can be catastrophic. During one rave-like music festival in California in 2019, 49 people were taken to emergency rooms. Some had simple heat exhaustion. But plenty of these concertgoers were experiencing problems due to drug use.

Some people who are introduced to club drugs at raves get hooked on them. Cocaine, for example, can cause dramatic brain changes after just one dose. People who use the drug at a party may take several hits to keep the high going, and they may keep on taking the substance when the action is over.

Methamphetamine is similarly addictive. It doesn’t take long for a problem to form.

Examples of Club Drugs

Anything you’re served at a party could be called a club drug. But in general, researchers consider club drugs substances that boost energy, offer hallucinogenic properties, enhance a sense of connection, or all three.

Examples of classic club drugs include:

Ketamine. This is a dissociative drug that can make you feel disconnected from reality. Typically, it’s sniffed or snorted, although some people inject the medication. It takes just minutes to work, and people who take it can feel unusual for up to 24 hours, says the Center for Substance Abuse Research.

bag of cocaine

Ketamine has been associated with tolerance, so you’d need a bigger dose the second time you take it. And it’s not uncommon for users to binge on the drug and take dose after dose during a weekend.

At very high amounts, people can experience dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

GHB. Gamma-hydroxybutyrate isn’t distributed within the United States. The Food and Drug Administration prohibits both the sale and manufacture of this drug. But it is sold online from overseas dealers. It can deliver a sense of power and euphoria, and it’s quickly dissolved in drinks.

At high doses, GHB can put users in a coma, experts say. Other side effects include high blood pressure, vertigo, aggression, and vomiting. Those problems usually start within about 15 minutes, and some people need treatment to get better.

It’s not clear if it’s associated with addiction.

MDMA. This drug is better known by its nickname: ecstasy. It’s an illegal drug, and it produces stimulation combined with hallucinations and changes in sensory perception. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says more than 18 million people have tried the drug at least once, making it one of the most popular club drugs available.

mdma pills

A hit can produce serious side effects, including body temperature increases, high blood pressure, and kidney damage. Ecstasy can also alter the brain and cause long-term cognitive decline.

Researchers say it’s likely this drug is addictive, but they need to do more studies to be sure.

Rohypnol. This drug is a depressant, and it can be used to treat people with depression or insomnia. In a club scene, it can be used to incapacitate a rape victim. The person becomes pliant and easy to overpower, and they may be unable to remember what happened.

Rohypnol is powerful, experts say, as it’s 10 times more potent than Valium. People who are interested in sedating drugs can, and do, become addicted to Rohypnol. It’s a difficult addiction to maintain, however, as this drug is not available for sale in the United States.

DMT. Hallucinations and sensory distortions are part of the club scene, and DMT can deliver both. This is a natural substance that’s similar to psilocybin, but it’s illegal in the United States.

DMT is short-acting, experts say, as hallucinations only last for a few hours. But those hallucinations can be severe, and some people find that they’re forever changed. Physical side effects include agitation, high blood pressure, and dizziness.

Researchers aren’t sure if the drug is physically addictive, but users can develop a psychological dependence on the substance.

LSD. This drug is often sold as a wafer. Tiny crystals of the drug are infused into papers that dissolve on the tongue. Each tab has a potency of up to 80 mg, researchers say.

Within about an hour of ingestion, hallucinations begin, and they can last for up to 12 hours.

People can develop a tolerance for LSD very quickly. When that happens, they need bigger doses to feel the same power. But research suggests that this drug is not associated with compulsion and addiction. Some of the hallucinations people experience while on LSD are so disturbing that people never want to take the medication again.

Cocaine. Powder from the coca plant can be sniffed, injected, or ingested. Users feel a remarkable high, but it fades quickly.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says the high from cocaine lasts for just 30 minutes. During that time, you might feel powerful, sexually energized, and passionate. But your body is in poor condition. Cocaine can cause heart attack, strokes, or seizures.

cocaine on table

Cocaine is also remarkably addictive, as it changes brain cells quickly. Recovery can take months, as there are no drugs available to reverse the damage.

Methamphetamine. A cold pill combined with butane and other household toxins creates methamphetamine. The drug produces a powerful high, but it fades quickly. Users tend to take it in binges, so they can keep the good feeling over a long time period.

Meth can cause severe side effects, including increased body temperature and a rapid heartbeat. It can also spark addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says meth changes the brain’s dopamine system, so users tend to feel sick and sad without it. Those changes can also cause reduced coordination and an inability to learn new things.

2C-B. This is a psychedelic drug created in the 1970s, experts say, and it’s considered a hallucinogenic substance. Stronger visual and perception changes happen with larger doses, and music tends to enhance the experience.

Some people develop nausea and chills after taking the drug. Others have difficult or terrifying hallucinations that won’t seem to end.

People aren’t sure if it can cause addictions, as it’s relatively new and untested. People who take it are, in essence, experimenting on themselves.

Whippits. The same substance that whips up cream for a slice of pie can transform your party experience. A sniff from a canister can produce euphoria, hallucinations, and sexual interest.

It’s a relatively popular drug, experts say, because it’s cheap and easy to find. At a party, someone might serve it to you in a balloon.

Long-term users can develop nerve problems, including paralysis and persistent pain. And the drug can cause you to keep using, even when you don’t want to do so.

When you deal with a serious side effect at a party, ask for help. Doctors may have the right therapy for you, as long as you disclose what you took and when.

You can also call for help if a friend is suffering. Your quick thinking could save a life.

Do You Need Help for Substance Abuse?

When you’re standing with friends at a party, and someone hands you drugs, it’s hard to refuse them. You want to fit in, you want to have fun, and you feel safe. But substances given to you in these situations are hardly ever completely safe.

If you started using club drugs and you find you can’t stop, treatment can help. Your team can help you understand why you accepted the first hit, and that team can help you build up skills to stop using in the future.

Teams may also help if you’re hooked on many drugs. If you feel you always need substances to have a good time at a party, therapy could help you break down that impulse and learn to enjoy your life without drugs.

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