Club Drugs: Effects, Risks, and Addiction

Drug use continues to be high among gay and bisexual men. A 2005 nationwide survey of 3,000 urban gay and bisexual men by the CDC found that, over the previous six months, 90 percent had used alcohol, 50 percent had smoked pot, 20 percent had done coke, 10 percent had smoked crack, and 10 percent had used crystal meth. As to frequency of use, the study found the surprising result that for gay men, doing drugs is a more common activity than drinking booze.

Want to educate yourself about the most prevalent club drugs affecting the gay community? Choose your poison:

Club Drug Quick Links
Crystal Methamphetamine

Street Name Crystal, meth, Crissy, Tina, crank, speed, glass, ice
What It Is A powerful stimulant. The active ingredient is ephedrine or pseudoephedrine (available in over-the-counter cold or allergy meds), and preparing it is easy but risky because additional ingredients (industrial solvents, for example) are flammable and corrosive.
What It Does Meth floods the brain with dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and desire, and adrenalin, a hormone that stimulates the “fight or flight,” or stress, response, causing heart to race, pupils to widen, muscles to tighten, and so on.
Dose The crystals are snorted, smoked, injected (“slammed”), or absorbed via a “booty bump.”
Duration An average dose lasts from four to eight hours.
Effects Feelings of euphoria, energy, strong disinhibition; an increase in physical and sexual motivation, focus and attention, confidence and aggression. Other bodily functions, such as hunger, thirst, and need for sleep, decrease.
Risks In the short term, the main side effect is the depression or anxiety that results from exhausting the brain’s supply of dopamine. Frequent use can heighten these negative feelings to the point of paranoia and hallucinations. Chronic use can cause permanent imbalance in the brain chemistry, leading to an inability to experience pleasure. This is one reason that kicking meth addiction is so difficult. Damage to the body can include high blood pressure, tooth decay (“meth mouth”), weight loss, and other health problems associated with the general collapse of self-care; if you have HIV, a weekend binge can mean a treatment interruption. Overdose is rare; symptoms include chest pain, elevated body temperature, rapid heart rate, and shallow breathing. Since meth is often used for marathon sessions of sex, it can double or even triple your risk of getting infected with HIV or other STDs. And since it both increases your sex drive and decreases your inhibitions, your sensitivity to pain, and your ability to maintain an erection, even hard-core condom users and “total” tops may find themselves bottoming with multiple partners and no latex. Sharing needles when slamming crystal can also transmit the virus.
Addiction Due to its ability to release large amounts of dopamine, the reward-system brain chemical implicated in all addictions, meth is easy to get hooked on, especially when injected or smoked. Many gay men say they became addicted at their first high; many also say they did not “hit bottom” until they got HIV. Further, many addicts are also addicted to the state of acute arousal that meth-fueled sex produces. To avoid relapse, former users have to mourn the loss of that experience at a time when their ability to experience “normal” pleasure has been burnt out. Crystal Meth Anonymous, based on the 12-Step abstinence model, has helped many gay men stay clean.