Drug Intelligence Brief
Club Drugs: An Update
Estimated Emergency Room Mentions for Selected Club Drugs
Source: Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN)
Reports from DAWN indicate that the use of club drugs, most notably the synthetic ones, is increasing significantly. The number of nationwide hospital emergency room mentions of GHB, ketamine, MDMA, and Rohypnol increased significantly from 1994 to 2000, with GHB and MDMA mentions quadrupling from 1998 to 2000.
This report provides an overview of the drugs primarily encountered at raves and nightclubs, with a discussion of the drug sources, pharmacological effects, prices, and scheduling.
Street Names: Ecstasy, XTC, E, X, and Adam
Primarily illicitly manufactured in and trafficked from Europe, MDMA is the most popular of the club drugs. DEA reporting indicates widespread abuse of this drug within virtually every city in the United States. Although it is primarily abused in urban settings, abuse of this substance also has been noted in rural communities. Prices in the United States generally range from $20 to $30 per dosage unit; however, prices as high as $40 per dosage unit have been reported in New York City.
The drug is a synthetic, psychoactive substance possessing stimulant and mild hallucinogenic properties. Known as the hug drug or feel good drug, it reduces inhibitions, eliminates anxiety, and produces feelings of empathy for others. In addition to chemical stimulation, the drug reportedly suppresses the need to eat, drink, or sleep. This enables club-scene users to endure all-night and sometimes 2- to 3-day parties. Although it can be snorted, injected, and rectally inserted, MDMA is usually taken orally in tablet form, and its effects last approximately 4 to 6 hours. When taken at raves, where all-night dancing usually occurs, the drug often leads to severe dehydration and heat stroke in the user since it has the effect of short-circuiting the bodys temperature signals to the brain.
An MDMA overdose is characterized by a rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, faintness, muscle cramping, panic attacks, and, in more severe cases, loss of consciousness or seizures. One of the side effects of the drug is jaw muscle tension and teeth grinding. As a consequence, MDMA users will often suck on pacifiers to help relieve the tension. The most critical, life-threatening response to MDMA is hyperthermia or excessive body heat. Recent reports of MDMA-related deaths were associated with core body temperatures ranging from 107 to 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Many rave clubs now provide cooling centers or cold showers so participants can lower their body temperatures.
The long-term effects of MDMA are still under evaluation; however, research by the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2001 directly measured the effects of the drug on the human brain. The study revealed that the drug causes damage to the neurons (nerve cells) that utilize serotonin to communicate with other neurons in the brain, and that recreational MDMA users risk permanent brain damage that may manifest itself in depression, anxiety, memory loss, learning difficulties, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, and other neuropsychiatric disorders. Current research indicates that MDMA also affects other neurotransmitter systems, such as dopamine and acetylcholine. MDMA is toxic to human brain cells; there is absolutely no window of safety between a dose of MDMA found in a single tablet sold on the street and the threshold dose that causes brain cell death in humans. While cell death occurs from the first exposure to MDMA, its functional effects may not be seen for months.
In addition to the dangers posed by MDMA, incidents involving look-alike tablets containing substances such as PMA, methamphetamine, and methamphetamine/ketamine are increasing. Tablets containing MDMA in combination with other illicit drugs, such as phencyclidine (PCP), have also been encountered. Users are unaware of the dangers posed by these drugs and unknowingly ingest potentially dangerous or even lethal amounts. In 2000 alone, PMA was associated with three deaths in Chicago and six deaths in central Florida.
MDMA is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Street Names: K, Special K, and Cat Valium
Marketed as a dissociative general anesthetic for human and veterinary use, the only known source of ketamine is via diversion of pharmaceutical products. Recent press reports indicate that a significant number of veterinary clinics are being robbed specifically for their ketamine stock. DEA reporting indicates that a major source of ketamine in the United States is product diverted from pharmacies in Mexico. Ketamine liquid can be injected, applied to smokable material, or consumed in drinks. The powdered form is made by allowing the solvent to evaporate, leaving a white or slightly off-white powder that, once pulverized, looks similar to cocaine. The powder can be put into drinks, smoked, or dissolved and then injected. Prices average $20 to $25 per dosage unit.
Ketamine produces physical effects similar to PCP, with the visual effects of LSD. Users report that it is better than PCP or LSD because the trip lasts an hour or less. Low doses of the drug produce an experience called K-Land, a mellow, colorful wonder world. Higher doses produce an effect referred to as K-Hole, an out of body, or near-death experience. Use of the drug can cause delirium, amnesia, depression, and long-term memory and cognitive difficulties. Due to its dissociative effect, it is reportedly used as a date-rape drug.
Ketamine was placed on Schedule III of the CSA on August 12, 1999.
(gamma hydroxybutyric acid)
Street Names: Liquid Ecstasy, Scoop, Easy Lay, Georgia Home Boy, Grievous Bodily Harm, Liquid X, and Goop
GHB is a central nervous system depressant banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 1990. Originally sold in health food stores, GHB was marketed as a releasing agent for growth hormones that would stimulate muscle growth. GHB is easily produced by combining gamma butyrolactone (GBL) with either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide in a cooking pot or bucket. The chemicals give off heat as they react, and the final product does not have to be isolated or separated from the solution. Internet recipes warn prospective chemists to closely monitor the pH level of the solution. Several companies advertise kits for sale over the Internet that provide the customer with GBL, sodium hydroxide, and litmus paper. Since the drug is easy to synthesize and manufacture, distribution usually is handled by local operators.
In lower doses, GHB causes drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, and visual disturbances. At higher dosages, unconsciousness, seizures, severe respiratory depression, and coma can occur. Overdoses usually require emergency room treatment, including intensive care for respiratory depression and coma. As of November 2000, DEA documented 71 GHB-related deaths.
GHB generates feelings of euphoria and intoxication. Some users also report that it is an aphrodisiac. It is often used as a chemical method of counteracting the stimulant effect of MDMA. GHB is primarily available in liquid form, although it is sometimes encountered as a powder. It is highly soluble, and is often added to spring water or concealed in mouthwash bottles. Due to its salty taste, flavorings are often added, and it is sometimes passed off as a high-carbohydrate health drink. GHB is usually sold by the capful, and sells for $5 to $25 per cap. GHB is often added to alcohol, which enhances its effect and increases the potential for respiratory distress. Although it is not the primary reason for its abuse, GHB has been used in the commission of sexual assaults because it renders the victim incapable of resisting, and may cause memory problems that could complicate case prosecution.
On February 18, 2000, President William J. Clinton signed the Hillory J. Farias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Prohibition Act of 2000. This legislation makes GHB a Schedule I drug under the CSA.
GBL is a chemical used in many industrial cleaners, and is the precursor chemical for the manufacture of GHB. Several Internet businesses offer kits that contain GBL and the proper amount of sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, along with litmus paper and directions for the manufacture of GHB. The process is quite simple, and does not require complex laboratory equipment. The kits sell for between $48 and $200. As with GHB, GBL can be added to water and is nearly undetectable.
In addition to its industrial applications, GBL has been marketed as a health supplement. Products that contained GBL, such as Renewtrient, Longevity, Revivarant, G.H. Revitalizer, Gamma G, Blue Nitro, Insom-X, Remforce, Firewater, and Invigorate were removed from the market. However, many of the products have been re-introduced under new names, utilizing 1,4 butanediol (BD) as a replacement for GBL. BD is synthesized by the body to produce GHB.
GBL also is converted by dehydrogenase in the gastrointestinal tract to produce GHB. As a consequence, some partygoers drink small quantities of GBL straight. This often causes a severe physical reaction, usually through the violent regurgitation of the fluid. These chemicals increase the effects of alcohol, and can cause respiratory distress, seizures, coma, and death.
GBL became a List I chemical on February 18, 2000. BD is not scheduled under federal guidelines.
Street Names: Roofies, Rophies, Roche, Forget-me Pill, Circles, Mexican Valium, Rib, Roach-2, Roopies, Rope, Ropies, Ruffies, and Roaches
Rohypnol, most commonly known as a date-rape drug, continues to be abused among teenagers and young adults, usually at raves and nightclubs. The drug remains readily available, mainly through pharmaceutical operators located in Mexico, especially Tijuana. Seizures, which appear to be declining, occur primarily in the Southwest Border states.
Rohypnol is marketed by Hoffman-La Roche Inc., and is legally sold in Latin America and Europe as a short-term treatment for insomnia, and as a preanesthetic medication. One of the significant effects of the drug is anterograde amnesia, a factor that strongly contributed to its inclusion in the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996. Anterograde amnesia is a condition in which events that occurred while under the influence of the drug are forgotten. Rohypnol is available as a .5-milligram and 1-milligram oblong tablet, as well as a 1-milligram per milliliter injectable solution. Hoffman-La Roche phased out the 2-milligram dose tablet from 1996 to 1997, and is currently phasing out the round, white 1-milligram tablet. The licit market for the drug is currently supplied with a 1-milligram dose in an olive green, oblong tablet, imprinted with the number 542. The new tablet includes a dye that, according to Hoffman-La Roche, will be visible if it is slipped into a drink.
Rohypnol usually is smuggled into the United States by way of mail or delivery services. Although Rohypnol smuggling has not reached the scale of MDMA trafficking, the DEA and other enforcement agencies continue to investigate smuggling operations. California and Texas currently have the most significant activity related to Rohypnol being mailed or brought into the United States via couriers from Mexico. In May 2000, the DEA in conjunction with the United States Border Patrol seized approximately 900 Rohypnol tablets concealed in a vehicle at a checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas. Also, in July 2000, a multiagency investigation resulted in the arrest by the DEA of a pharmacy operator from Tijuana, Mexico, who illicitly distributed Rohypnol and other controlled substances through the U.S. mail in San Ysidro, California. Reports indicate that Rohypnol is often sold for between $2 and $5 per dosage unit, although it may sell for from $10 to $30 per dosage unit.
In addition to the chemically induced amnesia, Rohypnol often causes decreased blood pressure, drowsiness, visual disturbances, dizziness, confusion, gastrointestinal disturbances, and urinary retention. Users of the drug report effects similar to intoxication, yet claim that they wake up the next morning without a hangover. Adding to the popularity of the drug is the perception that the drug cannot be detected in a urinalysis. While the drug can be detected (2-milligram doses can be detected within 72 hours of ingestion), it does break down very quickly, and many commercial toxicological screens do not detect flunitrazepam. In sexual assault cases, forensic laboratories need to screen for the flunitrazepam metabolite, 7-amino-flunitrazepam, using gas chromatography and/or mass spectrometry.
Rohypnol is a Schedule IV drug under the CSA.
LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide)
Street Names: Acid, Boomers, Yellow Sunshines, Cid, Doses, and Trips
LSD is a powerful hallucinogenic compound that is readily available at concerts and raves. LSD is primarily manufactured illegally within the United States by a limited number of chemists operating in Northern California, and more recently in the Midwest. Reports suggest that some localized production occurs with limited distribution networks around the country. LSD generally sells for $5 or $6 per dosage unit, although some DEA field divisions report prices as low as $1, and as high as $12.
LSD manufacturing is a time-consuming, complex chemical process. Although the recipe is available on the Internet, a solid background in chemistry is essential. LSD is typically manufactured using commercially produced chemicals such as ergotamine tartrate, lysergic acid, or lysergic acid amide. Lysergic acid and lysergic acid amide are both Schedule III substances, and ergotamine tartrate is a List I chemical under the Domestic Chemical Diversion and Control Act.
Although the synthesis of LSD does not require a large quantity of precursor chemicals, the difficulty in obtaining precursors limits the number of independent manufacturers. Pure LSD is a clear or white, odorless crystalline material that is water-soluble. Liquid LSD is primarily associated with mid-level distribution. LSD in liquid or crystal form generally is sold in plastic film canisters or, occasionally, in small, opaque plastic bottles to prevent oxidation. Liquid LSD is mixed with a binding agent and pressed into pills (microdots that are only 3/32 of an inch or smaller); distributed in thin squares of gelatin (window panes); distributed in breath mint vials and treated sugar cubes; or dissolved and diluted and applied to blotter paper. Since variations in the manufacturing of LSD may result in an off-white color, the finished product is often applied to off-white, tan, or yellow paper with colorful designs to mask the impurities. The most common method of distributing LSD is blotter paper, and there may be as many as 80 street names for the drug, based upon the designs on the papers.
LSD potency varies between 20 and 80 micrograms per dosage unit, considerably lower than the 100 to 300 microgram or higher dosages encountered in the late 1960s, which often resulted in harmful reactions, or bad trips. The lower potency of todays LSD may be the reason for decreased LSD-related emergency room visits, and may also account for the drugs continued popularity.
In addition to hallucinations, LSD users may experience panic, confusion, suspicion, and anxiety. Flashbacks can occur even after the user has stopped taking the drug. Most users of LSD voluntarily decrease or stop using it over time, since it does not produce the same compulsive, drug-induced behavior of cocaine and heroin.
LSD is listed as a Schedule I drug under the CSA.
Street Names: Speed, Ice, Chalk, Meth, Crystal, Crank, Fire, and Glass
Methamphetamine has emerged as an alternative to MDMA at clubs and raves. Traditionally considered the poor-mans cocaine, methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant. Once under the almost exclusive control of outlaw motorcycle gangs, the majority of the methamphetamine is produced by Mexican national traffickers in large clandestine laboratories in Mexico and California, and shipped across the country in cars and trucks. A significant quantity also is produced by independent mom and pop laboratory operators, particularly in the Midwest. While the drug remains a concern in the West, Southwest, and Midwest, there are strong indications that the drugs impact has spread into the Southeast and Northeast. While not as popular as some of the other synthetic drugs associated with clubs and raves, methamphetamine could make its impact felt in the urban environments of these areas. Prices for methamphetamine vary greatly across the country, but generally range from $20 to $200 per gram, and $400 to $3000 per ounce.
Methamphetamine is a white, bitter-tasting, soluble crystalline powder. Methamphetamine abuse can lead to memory loss, aggressive behavior, violence, psychotic and paranoid behavior, and potential cardiac and neurological damage. Methamphetamine is neurotoxic, and users may suffer a significant reduction in dopamine transporters. If methamphetamine is supplied by small-scale, amateur laboratory operators, there is a strong possibility that the drug may contain toxic chemical adulterants.
Methamphetamine can be smoked, snorted, injected, or orally ingested. The injection of methamphetamine can contribute to higher rates of infectious disease, especially hepatitis, HIV, and AIDS. At least three DEA investigations uncovered the use, or attempted acquisition of pill-presses to convert methamphetamine powder into pill form. While this is not indicative of a general trend, there is a strong likelihood that this may become the preferred method of distributing methamphetamine. Generally, club drug users already use drugs that are in pill form, and wish to avoid the stigmas that come with the use of drugs such as cocaine and heroin (intravenous injections, track marks, etc.).
The importation of Southeast Asian methamphetamine tablets, imported primarily through the mail, is increasing. Produced mainly by the United Wa State Army, the largest heroin and methamphetamine trafficking group in Burma, the tablets, which weigh approximately 90 milligrams, typically contain betwen 25 and 30 milligrams of methamphetamine, from 45 to 65 milligrams of caffeine, and the remainder is binders. These tablets are called Yaba. Although it is believed that the tablets are trafficked primarily by ethnic Thais or Laotians for use in the Asian community, it is likely that larger amounts will be smuggled into the United States as demand increases outside that community.
The crystalline form of methamphetamine, known as ice or glass, is gaining popularity. Converted from powder by criminal elements in Southeast Asia, Mexico, and the United States, ice traditionally was used in Hawaii and southern California. More recently, its use has spread along the West Coast and Southwest Border area.
Methamphetamine is a Schedule II drug under the CSA.
Street Names: Angel Dust, Crystal, Hog, Supergrass, Killer Joints, Ozone, Wack, Embalming Fluid, and Rocket Fuel.
PCP is a clandestinely manufactured hallucinogen. The chemicals required to manufacture the drug are readily available and inexpensive. Moreover, the production process is relatively simple and requires very little laboratory equipment. Manufacture of the drug primarily remains under the control of Los Angeles-based street gangs.
In its pure form, PCP is a white crystalline powder that is readily dissolved in water or pressed into tablets. Most PCP contains contaminants from its makeshift manufacture, resulting in a color ranging from tan to brown, and consistency varying from crystalline powder to a gummy mass. PCP usually is sprayed onto a leafy material and smoked, or is used to adulterate commercially manufactured cigarettes. PCP tablets sell from $5 to $15 each, powder for $20 to $30 per gram, and liquid for $200 to $600 per ounce. Dipped cigarettes reportedly sell for $5 to $20 each.
Reports of PCP abuse in nightclubs and raves are not widespread; however, its ready availability and the club drug culture may set the stage for another resurgence of the drug.
PCP is a Schedule II drug under the CSA.
Street Names: 2CB, Venus, Bromo, Nexus, Spectrum, BDMPEA, Toonies, and MFT
Although reports of Nexus (2CB) abuse are sporadic, this drug could emerge as a significant drug in the rave culture. Reports indicate that it has become popular in Germany and Switzerland, and its effects (enhancement of visual and auditory perception, increased sexual desire, and heightened senses of taste and touch) may appeal to the U.S. rave culture. Nexus was once legally available in South Africa, and much of the trafficking of the drug originated from there; however, reports now indicate that it is clandestinely manufactured in the Netherlands. The DEA Washington Field Division reports that Nexus has been seized by the Richmond District Office, and that the drug is starting to appear in clubs in Washington, DC. Since 1999, seizures of Nexus have been made in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Maine, South Dakota, Nevada, and Virginia.
Nexus is generally available in pill, capsule, or powder form. It is ten times more powerful than MDMA, with a typical dosage unit ranging from 5 to 10 milligrams. The drug has serious side effects, including confusion, cardiovascular disturbances, and dehydration. Usually sold as MDMA, Nexus prices range from $25 to $30 per pill.
Nexus is a Schedule I drug under the CSA.
Street Name: Shrooms, Mushies, and Mexican Magic Mushrooms
Although they are not as popular as the synthetic drugs, psilocybin mushrooms are encountered at raves, clubs, and increasingly on college campuses. Due to the difficulty in growing and storing mushrooms, suppliers are usually independent operators who distribute their product locally. Prices for mushrooms vary, but generally cost $20 per 1/8 ounce, and $100 to $150 per ounce.
Mushrooms can be ingested alone or in combination with alcohol or illegal drugs. The mushrooms can be soaked or boiled in water to make tea, and often are cooked and added to other foods to mask their bitter taste. Although mushroom potency varies, they generally contain 0.2 percent to 0.4 percent psilocybin, and only a trace amount of psilocyn. Although both chemicals can be manufactured, DEA reporting at this time does not indicate that this is taking place. Psilocybin is broken down by the body to produce psilocyn, which may be the source of the mind-altering effects of the drug. The physical effects of the mushrooms appear within 20 minutes of ingestion, and last approximately 6 hours. These effects include nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, yawning, drowsiness, tearing, facial flushing, enlarged pupils, sweating, and lack of coordination. Other physical effects include dizziness, diarrhea, dry mouth, and restlessness. Information published on a number of rave Internet sites indicates that, while mushrooms are used at clubs, they provide no energy for the dancer, and affect coordination. Most users experience profound relaxation and the lack of desire to move.
The psychological and physical effects of the drug include changes to audio, visual, and tactile senses. Colors reportedly appear brighter, and users report a crossing of the senses, such as seeing a sound and hearing a color. Users often report a sense of detachment from their body and a greater feeling of unity with their surroundings. Furthermore, the high is described as a more natural sensation than that supplied by synthetic hallucinogens. A large dose of the drug produces hallucinations and an inability to discern fantasy from reality. This sometimes leads to panic reactions and psychosis. No evidence of physical dependence exists, although tolerance does develop when mushrooms are ingested continuously over a short period of time. Individuals tolerant to LSD also show tolerance to mushrooms.
In one of the more significant trafficking cases, on November 18, 1999, the DEA Medford, Oregon, Resident Office, in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, and state and local law enforcement authorities, reported the seizure of an indoor psilocybin mushroom growing operation. This operation resulted in the seizure of 66 pounds of dried mushrooms and 100 pounds of fresh mushrooms. The investigation revealed that the operator supplied psilocybin mushrooms to Oregon, California, Washington, New York, Nevada, Hawaii, Florida, Vermont, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Canada.
Mushrooms are not scheduled under the CSA, but both psilocybin and psilocyn are Schedule I drugs.
The use of synthetic drugs has become a popular method of enhancing the club and rave experience, which is characterized by loud, rapid-tempo techno music (140 to 200 beats per minute), light shows, smoke or fog, and pyrotechnics. Users of drugs such as MDMA report that the effects of the drugs heighten the users perceptions, especially the visual stimulation. Quite often, users of MDMA at clubs will dance with light sticks to increase their visual stimulation. Legal substances such as Vicks nasal inhalers and Vicks VapoRub are often used to enhance the effects of the drugs.
Raves originated in England and on the Island of Ibiza (off the coast of Spain) and the culture rapidly spread to the United States, along with techno music. Raves are either legal or illegal, the former run by professional promoters with the requisite permits and licenses, while the latter are amateur operations at unapproved sites (such as warehouses or open fields). Attendance can range from several hundred to many thousands, and admission varies from $10 to over $50 but is sometimes free. Raves often are advertised on the Internet and by word-of-mouth. Advertisements range from simple black-and-white flyers to elaborate artwork designed to portray the freedom and social awareness that these events espouse. Event attendance is heavily determined by the disc jockeys working the shows.
While these events were not originally intended to serve as a nexus for illicit drug sales, the culture surrounding the events has created a favorable environment for illegal drug trafficking. Although raves may have been the traditional venue for drug purchases throughout the early 1990s, more recently these drugs are being purchased at clubs and brought back to college dorms, high school parties, and more rural party venues.
|This report was prepared by the DEA Intelligence Division, Office of Domestic Intelligence, Domestic Strategic Unit. Comments and requests for copies are welcome and may be directed to the Intelligence Production Unit, Intelligence Division, DEA Headquarters, at (202) 307-8726.|