Drug Facts – Club Drugs


Club drugs are a pharmacologically heterogeneous group of psychoactive compounds that tend to be abused by teens and young adults at a nightclub, bar, rave, or trance scene. Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, ketamine, MDMA (ecstasy) and methamphetamine are some of the drugs in this group.

MDMA is a synthetic, psychoactive drug chemically similar to the stimulant methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline.

The tasteless and odorless depressants Rohypnol and GHB are often used in the commission of sexual assaults due to their ability to sedate and intoxicate unsuspecting victims. Rohypnol, a sedative/tranquilizer, is legally available for prescription in over 50 countries outside of the U.S. and is widely available in Mexico, Colombia, and Europe. Although usually taken orally in pill form, reports have shown that some users grind Rohypnol into a powder and snort the drug.

GHB, available in an odorless, colorless liquid form or as a white powder material, is taken orally, and is frequently combined with alcohol. In addition to being used to incapacitate individuals for the commission of sexual assault/rape, GHB is also sometimes used by body builders for its alleged anabolic effects.

The abuse of ketamine, a tranquilizer most often used on animals, became popular in the 1980s, when it was realized that large doses cause reactions similar to those associated with the use of PCP, such as dream-like states and hallucinations. The liquid form of ketamine can be injected, consumed in drinks, or added to smokable materials. The powder form can also be added to drinks, smoked, or dissolved and then injected. In some cases, ketamine is being injected intramuscularly.

Extent of Use

According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 12.9 million Americans aged 12 or older tried ecstasy at least once in their lifetimes, representing 5.2% of the U.S. population in that age group. The estimated number of past year ecstasy users in 2008 was approximately 2.1 million (0.9% of the population aged 12 or older) and the number of past month ecstasy users was 555,000 (0.2%).

Among 12–17 year olds surveyed as part of the 2008 NSDUH, 0.4% reported past month ecstasy use. Additional NSDUH results indicate that 0.9% of 18–25 year olds and 0.1% of those aged 26 or older reported past month use of ecstasy.

Results of the 2008 Monitoring the Future survey indicate that 2.4% of eighth graders, 4.3% of tenth graders, and 6.2% of twelfth graders reported lifetime use of MDMA. In 2007, these percentages were 2.3%, 5.2%, and 6.5%, respectively.

Approximately 28.6% of eighth graders, 43.2% of tenth graders, and 57.0% of twelfth graders surveyed in 2008 reported that trying MDMA once or twice was a “great risk.”

Approximately 0.7% of eighth graders and 0.9% of tenth graders surveyed in 2008 reported lifetime use of Rohypnol (twelfth grade data are not available for Rohypnol).

Additional Monitoring the Future results for 2008 indicate that 1.1% of eighth graders, 0.5% of tenth graders, and 1.2% of twelfth graders reported past year use of GHB. Data showing past month and lifetime use of GHB and ketamine were not captured in the study.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveys high school students on several risk factors including drug and alcohol use. Results of the 2007 survey indicate that 5.8% of high school students reported using ecstasy at some point in their lifetimes. During 2005, 6.3% of high school students reported lifetime use of ecstasy.

Health Effects

In high doses, MDMA can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature, sometimes leading to a sharp increase in body temperature (hyperthermia), resulting in liver, kidney, and cardiovascular system failure, and death. MDMA users also risk increases in heart rate and blood pressure, and symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating. Psychological effects of MDMA use can include confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, and severe anxiety. Additionally, these problems can occur during as well as sometimes days or weeks after using the drug.

Rohypnol, GHB, and ketamine are all central nervous system depressants. Lower doses of Rohypnol can cause muscle relaxation and can produce general sedative and hypnotic effects. In higher doses, Rohypnol causes a loss of muscle control, loss of consciousness, and partial amnesia. When combined with alcohol, the toxic effects of Rohypnol can be aggravated.

The sedative effects of GHB may result in sleep, coma, or death. Other effects of GHB use can include seizures, along with nausea and breathing difficulties when combined with alcohol. GHB has increasingly become involved in poisonings, overdoses, date rapes, and fatalities.

The use of ketamine produces effects similar to PCP and LSD, causing distorted perceptions of sight and sound and making the user feel disconnected and out of control. The overt hallucinatory effects of ketamine are relatively short-acting, lasting approximately one hour or less. However, the user’s senses, judgement, and coordination may be affected for up to 24 hours after the initial use of the drug. Use of this drug can also bring about respiratory depression, heart rate abnormalities, and a withdrawal syndrome.

Of an estimated 113 million emergency department (ED) visits in the U.S. during 2006, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimates that 1,742,887 were drug-related. DAWN data indicate that MDMA was involved in 16,749 ED visits; GHB was involved in 1,084 visits; and ketamine was involved in 270 visits.

Arrests & Sentencing

During 2006, Federal authorities made 690 arrests related to MDMA. This is down from: 764 in 2005; 937 in 2004; 1,023 in 2003; and 1,506 in 2002. There were also 2 Federal arrests for GHB in the U.S. during 2006, which is down from 19 in 2005 and 20 in 2004.

In response to the Ecstasy Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000, the U.S. Sentencing Commission increased the guideline sentence for trafficking MDMA. The new amendment, enacted on November 1, 2001, increases the sentence for trafficking 800 MDMA pills by 300%, from 15 months to 5 years. It also increases the penalty for trafficking 8,000 pills by nearly 200%, from 41 months to 10 years.

The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) II program is designed to gather information on drug use and related matters from adult male offenders within 48 hours of arrest. ADAM II serves as a critical source of data for estimating trends in drug use in local areas, understanding the relationship between drugs and crime, and describing drug market activity in the adult male arrestee population in 10 U.S. sites during 2008. Arrestees in Washington, DC reported a significantly higher rate of ecstasy/MDMA use in the past 3 days compared to arrestees in the 9 other ADAM II sites.

Production & Trafficking

MDMA production by Asian drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) in Canada has increased significantly since 2004, fueling MDMA distribution by Canada-based Asian DTOs in U.S. drug markets. According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), while the number of MDMA lab seizures have remained relatively stable since 2004, the capacity of the labs has increased greatly.

Domestic production of MDMA is limited and is expected to remain at low levels in the near future. Since 2000, only 85 domestic MDMA laboratories have been seized. National seizure data show that 53% of the MDMA labs seized in the U.S. since 2000 were small operations not capable of producing more than 2 ounces per production cycle.

GHB trafficking has declined to a low level since its apparent peak during 2000. National seizure data reveal that domestic production of GHB is limited, with only 86 laboratories seized in the U.S. since 2000.


MDMA, GHB, Rohypnol, and ketamine have all been scheduled under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. The Schedules of the club drugs are as follows:

  • MDMA—Schedule I as of 1998
  • GHB—Schedule I as of 2000
  • Rohypnol—Schedule IV as of 1984
  • Ketamine—Schedule III as of 1999

Street Terms

Drug Terms
GHB Goop, Grievous bodily harm, Max, Soap
Ketamine Cat Valium, K, Jet, Super Acid
MDMA Disco biscuit, Hug drug, Go, XTC (Ecstasy)
Rohypnol Forget me drug, Mexican Valium, Roaches, Roofies

Taken from the Office of National Drug Control Policy Website.