Gay men use drugs for a wide variety of reasons: peer pressure, feelings of shame around their sexuality, depression, or simply because they enjoy it or want to experiment.
Specific drugs can go in and out of fashion, and some carry more risks than others.
In recent years, gay and bi men have been turning to a particular ‘unholy trinity‘ of substances.
Crystal meth use has cut a swathe through LGBTI scenes as far apart as Sydney and Los Angeles. In the UK, the rise of chemsex parties and GHB-use has been linked to a rise in a number of drug-related overdoses and deaths.
Many men use these substances safely. Others become addicted and find their drug use out of control. Others suffer ill health or overdose, sometimes putting their lives at risk. Here are the party drugs most commonly used by gay men in tandem with sex below.
Also known as: Meph, Meow Meow, M-Cat, Bubble, Bounce
What it does: Mephedrone is a powerful amphetamine stimulant that can produce feelings of euphoria, alertness and affection towards the people around you. You’ll likely be more talkative, feel intoxicated and horny.
What are the risks: It can provoke anxiety and paranoia, as well as headaches, vomiting, insomnia and teeth grinding. Over-stimulation can cause palpitations or damage to your heart. Amphetamines can cause the body to overheat, which has been associated with death.
Reducing the risk: Users swallow mephedrone or snort it. Injecting mephedrone is associated with more health risks, such as damage to blood vessels. It also puts you at risk of hepatitis C and HIV if you share needles with others.
Take advice from a medical professional on how to inject properly to avoid damaging your veins. Don’t share or re-use needles. Avoid mixing mephedrone with alcohol or other drugs that make you high.
Also known as: Tina, crystal, meth, ice, glass, Christine, Yabba
What it does: Crystal Meth, part of the amphetamine family, makes users feel very awake, alert, high and exhilarated. It lowers inhibitions, especially in relation to sex, and will typically make you feel super horny.
It’s typically smoked or snorted and the high can last anywhere between 4-24 hours.
What are the risks: It can also make you feel agitated, paranoid and confused – to the point of psychosis. It raises the heart rate and blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attack. You will probably have trouble getting an erection, despite feeling very aroused (‘crystal dick’).
As its effects can last for so long, you can forget to take HIV treatment or PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis), if you take those medications. You can also go for long periods without eating or sleeping.
In terms of overdose, crystal is not as dangerous as GHB unless mixed with alcohol or other drugs. However, it is a highly addictive drug and users can very easily become hooked without realizing it.
‘People don’t normally go through the normal stages of addiction,’ says Mike Rizzo, a former crystal meth addict turned counselor who works at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. ‘Or if they do, they go through them very quickly: experimental use, social use, recreational use and then addiction. With crystal, you go from experimental to addiction really, really fast.’
Reducing the risk: Avoid mixing with GHB or alcohol. Injecting the drug will carry additional health risks, especially if you share needles. In terms of avoiding becoming addicted, there is no agreed advice on how to minimize the risks: it’s a very addictive drug for most users.
Also known as: G, Gina, Liquid Ecstasy, Liquid X
What it does: Produces a feeling of euphoria, lowers inhibitions and can boost sexual desire. The scientific names is gammahydroxybutyrate (GHB) or gammabutyrolactone (GBL). GBL is converted into GHB in your body when ingested, and in some cities, is more common than GHB.
What are the risks: It can be very easy to overdose on GHB. An overdose can send you into a GHB-induced coma, which leaves you vulnerable to being sexually assaulted. You might wake some time later thinking you’ve merely been asleep. A slightly greater does can lead to respiratory collapse and death. The adverse health risks are increased further if mixed with other drugs or alcohol.
GHB is also physically addictive and addicts will usually need medical assistance to be weaned off the drug.
Reducing the risk: If you’re going to take GHB, take small doses, and leave at least 2-3 hours between doses.
London-based drug charity Antidote says: ‘Some people find that between 0.5 and 1ml of G will give them a safe high, and they never dose again within the same three-hour period.’
Use a measured dropper or syringe to measure out a dose: do not just pour from a bottle into a cup and think you’ve been safe. Also, don’t accept G from others – stick to your own doses and timings.
Also known as: Charlie, coke, snow, rocks, toot.
What it does: Cocaine has been around the decades – you actually used to be able to buy it in chemists at the turn of the 19th century. It’s most commonly snorted as a powder, and induces feelings of confidence, euphoria and alertness. You can feel invincible and all-conquering.
What are the risks: It raises your body temperature and makes your heart beat faster. High doses can cause heart failure or heart attack. It’s a very addictive drug – even more so if you smoke freebase or crack cocaine. Regularly snorting cocaine will damage the inner cartilage of your nose.
It’s also an expensive drug, which means it’s fallen out of favor with many gay men in favor of other, cheaper drugs.
Reducing the risk: Avoid using with other drugs or alcohol. Avoid using crack cocaine, which is even more addictive and potentially dangerous.
Also known as: K, Special K
Scientific name: Ketamine
What it does: Ketamine is a powerful anesthetic that can completely knock you out. In smaller doses, it puts you into a trippy, trance-like state, distort your view of reality or induce hallucinations. Your mind can feel disassociated from your body, leaving you unable to move.
What are the risks: Because of its anesthetic qualities, you can hurt yourself badly and not be aware until the drug’s effects have worn off. The drug can severely damage your bladder.
Taking ketamine with alcohol or other ‘downers’, like benzodiazepines, can depress your ability to breathe or lower your heart rate to dangerous levels. If you take so much you fall asleep, there’s a risk of choking on your own vomit.
Reducing the risk: Do not mix ketamine with alcohol or any other drugs.
If you suspect someone has overdosed on any drug they have taken, do not hesitate to call an ambulance!
For more information, check these websites
This article is part of the Gay Star News Chemsex Series. Read more stories, support and see the videos on our chemsex section.