Club Drugs - Types, Side Effects, and Treatment

Club drug is a loose term applied to all drugs that have gained popularity in the “party scene.” The most common types of club drugs include stimulants, psychedelics, hallucinogens, dissociatives, sedatives, depressants, and inhalants.
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What Are Club Drugs?

“Club drugs” is a term that refers to drugs teens and young adults abuse at social gatherings, such as raves, night clubs, house parties, and concerts.

Club drugs is a broad term referring to many different categories of drugs of abuse and several individual drugs within each category. As such, club drugs are any drugs young people use to enhance their experience at a social gathering.

Since many club drugs are synthetic or mixtures of different drugs, they are sometimes referred to as “designer drugs.”

The most common reasons why people use club drugs include:

  • Experimentation — due to curiosity or in reaction to peer-pressure
  • Enhance social interactions — lower inhibitions, overcome social anxiety, and relate better to peers
  • Enhance recreational activities — to stay awake, and to enable prolonged and higher-energy participation in dancing or “partying”
  • To relax — tension reduction and for coping with stress
  • To experience intoxication and euphoria
Graphic of four pills to display party drugs.

Types of Club Drugs

Many drugs that come from a variety of drug classes are used as club drugs. These include:

Stimulants

  • Amphetamines — powerful psychostimulants that are sometimes used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Often these are manufactured and trafficked illicitly for the purposes of abuse, especially crystal methamphetamine
  • Ephedrine — a stimulant medication that is used medically to increase blood pressure and treat asthma. It is a restricted precursor for the illicit production of amphetamines, including crystal methamphetamine
  • Ritalin and Dexedrine — prescription stimulants that are used to treat ADHD. They are prescribed with caution because they are highly addictive and side effect-prone
  • Cocaine — a potent psychostimulant with very few medical uses. It is widely produced and distributed as a major drug of abuse worldwide. It may be injected, snorted, or made into a base to smoke (“crack” cocaine)

Psychedelics, Hallucinogens, and Dissociatives

  • Ecstasy (MDMA) — a synthetic drug that acts as a stimulant and a hallucinogen. Ecstasy is the prototypical club drug
  • 2C-B (2,5-dimethoxy-4-bromophenethylamine) — a synthetic psychedelic drug that was initially produced as an alternative to ecstasy when it became illegal
  • LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide) — one of the most powerful psychedelic agents, with no medical uses. LSD is made illicitly from the ergot fungus that grows on rye plants
  • Ketamine — a powerful dissociative agent that is used as a surgical anesthetic. It is abused for its psychedelic effects. It produces a trance-like state and amnesia, so it is often abused as a “date-rape” drug
  • PCP (phencyclidine) — Initially developed as a surgical anesthetic, it is no longer used medically due to its serious side effects. It is now produced and trafficked illicitly for abuse for its hallucinogenic and stimulant effects
  • Psilocybin — a naturally occurring hallucinogen that is found in more than 200 species of mushrooms (magic mushrooms)
  • DM (Dextromethorphan) — a cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cough remedies. DM is abused for its dissociative, sedative, and sometimes stimulant properties
  • DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) — a naturally occurring drug found in many plants and animals. It produces a brief but intense hallucinogen experience

Sedatives and Depressants

  • GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) — a naturally occurring central nervous system (CNS) depressant that is sometimes used medically to treat narcolepsy. It abused for its sedative and intoxicating effects, and is also a potent “date-rape” drug due to its sedating and amnestic properties
  • Benzodiazepines (especially Rohypnol) — a class of medications known as “sedative-hypnotics,” used medically for their anti-anxiety and sedative properties. “Benzos” are abused for their sedative effects, or combined with other drugs to enhance intoxication
  • Alcohol — a legal CNS depressant widely used for its sedating and intoxicating effects
  • Chloral hydrate — a sedative-hypnotic drug that was in use medically as a sedative and anesthetic since the 19th century, but is seldom used today due to side effects. It is abused for its properties that are similar to “benzos”
  • Quaaludes (methaqualone) — a sedative-hypnotic drug that was once used medically as a sleep-aid until its significant addictive and withdrawal properties became known. It is now illegal in the U.S. but is abused similarly to “benzos” and as a “date-rape” drug

Inhalants

  • Nitrous oxide — also known as “laughing gas,” this inhalant is sometimes used as an anesthetic in dentistry. It is abused for its euphoric and dissociative effects
  • Poppers (alkyl nitrites) — a broad group of different inhalants that are abused for their brief but intense euphoric effects. Poppers are also abused for their ability to facilitate anal sex by relaxing muscles
  • “Hydrocarbons” — inhalants from household products such as spray paint and glues, or from gasoline, kerosene, and solvents. They are abused for their euphoric and disinhibiting effects

Virtually any drug of abuse, including cannabis and opioids, are used in “club” settings. People also commonly mix these substances with club drugs.

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Risks of Club Drugs

Club drugs include a wide variety of drugs and compounds, and each class of drugs has its own risks and side effects, such as:

  • Injuries from falls or dangerous and risky behaviors
  • Impaired driving accidents
  • Dehydration, which is caused by the dehydrating (anticholinergic) properties of the drug combined with all-night vigorous activity
  • Overdose, due to lack of inhibition, dehydration, and continued use throughout the night
  • Legal problems and arrest if a rave is raided by police, or due to risky behaviors including impaired driving
  • Rape, due to the disinhibition, amnesia, and the intense social setting
  • Sexually transmitted infections from shared needles or risky sexual behaviors

Club drugs carry many risks that are unique to the setting they are used in.

Other risks of club drugs are inherent to any illicit drug of abuse, such as:

  • Misrepresentation — dealers often substitute other drugs for ones that are difficult to produce or expensive. Even the dealer may have been duped, so that nobody really knows what is actually in the drug. An individual may also be given a drug that is actually a date rape drug, such as GHB, under false pretenses
  • Adulteration — the drug may be “cut” to increase the dealer’s profit, laced with another drug, or contain harmful impurities (such as mold or heavy metals) that are left over from amateurish or careless production techniques
  • Addiction — physical and psychological dependence can develop rapidly, especially with repeated use
Graphic of person being sick or having side effects.

Side Effects of Club Drugs

The side effects of club drugs vary substantially. Some of the more prominent potential side effects of common drug classes include:

Stimulants

  • Rapid heart rate and irregular heartbeat
  • Fainting
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation and aggression
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Elevated body temperature

Psychedelics, Hallucinogens, and Dissociatives

  • Psychosis (hallucinations, paranoia)
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Agitation and aggression
Sedatives and Depressants
  • Breathing suppression, leading to loss of consciousness, coma, and death,
  • Dizziness
  • Sedation, loss of consciousness
  • Amnesia
  • Low blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Agitation and aggression
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Blurred vision

Inhalants

  • Bubbles in the lungs
  • Sudden death from suffocation or from the “startle reaction” of adrenaline bursts
  • Dangerously low blood potassium levels
  • Nerve damage

All club drugs can also cause significant withdrawal effects, sometimes referred to as a “hangover.” These effects vary depending on the drug used, how much was used, and the individual’s biological characteristics. Common withdrawal effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Seizures
  • Cravings for more of the drug
  • Insomnia or excessive sleep
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration
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Addiction Symptoms

Addiction occurs when a person uses a drug despite obvious negative consequences and becomes unable to control or stop the drug use. The drug use continues to satisfy cravings, avoid withdrawal symptoms, and cope with life stressors.

Addiction affects many aspects of mental and physical health, and may result in serious problems in other areas of life, such as:

  • Social — disruption of friendships and relationships, social isolation, and risky social behaviors
  • Behavioral — use of other addictive substances, and neglecting life’s normal responsibilities and activities
  • Financial — depletion of financial resources due to the expense of obtaining the drug, and loss of employment
  • Legal — problems with the law due to impaired driving, or illegal activities to support drug use
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Addiction Treatment Options

Many people suffering from substance addiction don’t seek help or won’t accept help when it is offered for several reasons, including:

  • An illogical, persistent overconfidence in their ability to control or stop their drug use on their own, despite multiple failed attempts
  • A need to remain “in control”
  • A feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, as they may feel their situation is beyond help
  • Embarrassment and fear of being “discovered”
  • Fear of social stigma and other consequences

However, with the proper help, anyone with an addiction is capable of successful, long-term recovery and a return to good health and function. It is a matter of letting go of fear and the need for control, and accepting help.

Addiction is treatable for anyone who is willing to seek and accept the proper help.

Successful recovery from addiction takes more than just stopping the drug use. Rather, the causes and effects of the addiction should be addressed to prevent relapse. Proper addiction treatment imparts the necessary healing for a return to good health and function.

Professional treatment centers offer a number of programs to help people with addictions with their specific needs. This may include medical assistance to get through the detoxification process as they withdraw from the drug use. They also offer a variety of in-patient and outpatient programs, as well as aftercare support.


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Resources

American Family Physician. “Club Drugs: What You Should Know. American Family Physician, vol. 98, 2 (2018). https://www.aafp.org/afp/2018/0715/p85-s1.html

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “Drugs of Abuse.” (2017). https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/sites/getsmartaboutdrugs.com/files/publications/DoA_2017Ed_Updated_6.16.17.pdf#page=60

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “Club Drugs.” https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/club-drugs

Parks, Kathleen A., and Kennedy, Cheryl. “Club Drugs: Reasons For and Consequences of Use.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, vol. 36, 3 (2004):295-302. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8167012_Club_Drugs_Reasons_for_and_Consequences_of_Use

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Updated on: November 13, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
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