Party Drugs

All drugs considered to be party drugs are controlled substances listed in the control schedules maintained by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). A few drugs are most common at dance parties include:

  • Amyl nitrates (butyl nitrate, poppers, rush, hardware, locker room, aroma of man)
  • Ketamine hydrochloride (Ketalar, special K, vitamin K, cat Valium)
  • MDMA (mehthylenedioxy-methamphetamine, ecstasy, XTC, X, STP, clarity)
  • Methamphetamine (Desoxyn®, crystal meth, crystal, speed, crank, bennies, ice)

Psychologically, these drugs cause general feelings of pleasure and empathy, increased energy, and acute awareness to emotion (a "rush"). Many cause the user to dissociate from the environment, allowing him or her to stay awake or dance for several hours without feeling fatigue. A dissociative state is often accompanied by the following:

  • Carelessness
  • Ignorance to danger
  • Impaired judgment
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Lost sense of time

Physiologically, these drugs may cause cardiovascular, nervous system, and respiratory distress.

Amyl nitrate was originally developed as a treatment for angina; it directly affects the heart and cardiovascular system. The most popular street name for amyl nitrate, "poppers," comes from its initial packaging in thin glass vials, which were crushed or popped to release the vapors.

When inhaled, this yellowish fishy-smelling synthetic liquid enters the bloodstream, lowers blood pressure, and increases pulse rate within seconds. It is also a muscle relaxant and causes feelings of well-being and tranquility. Because its muscle-relaxing effects affect the anal sphincter muscles, some use it prior to anal sex. Some people experience blackouts, dizziness, and respiratory problems; overuse can cause vascular collapse and death.

Amyl nitrate is sold in small brown bottles by head shops and smoke shops as "room odorizer," "head cleaner," "liquid incense," or "rave."

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that was developed for human and animal use, thus, its street name "cat Valium." It is still used to sedate animals for minor procedures. A controlled dosage causes increased heart rate and separation between perception and sensation, similar to nitrous oxide, or "laughing gas."

In large doses (100 mg), it causes an intensely dreamy feeling or a deeply detached, hallucinogenic state. This state is known as a "K-hole," in which the user may find it difficult to move or talk. Large doses may also cause respiratory depression, which, when mixed with the "downer" effects of alcohol, can be deadly.

Many take the drug for its short-acting hallucinogenic effects. Though the drug is not addictive, many find it to be highly seductive and will increase the dose to intensify the experience. Prolonged use can lead to dependence and significant neurological disruption.

Ketamine begins as a clear liquid that can be swallowed or injected into muscle, though it is most commonly cooked into a white powder and snorted in small doses, or "bumps." Its effects can be felt in about 10 minutes. If injected into muscle, its effects begin sooner.

MDMA, or ecstasy , affects the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which is responsible for mood. Users tout it for its peaceful effects, which include acceptance of oneself and other people (empathogenesis), tolerance, and the desire to seek beauty and express love (entactogenesis).

For these reasons, it is referred to as a "hug drug." It is associated with intimacy and commonly taken before sex to intensify both the psychological and physical aspects of arousal and orgasm.

Smaller doses of ecstasy (60-80 mg) cause elevated heart rate and pulse, flushing, and the psychological effects above. Larger doses may cause severe nausea, seizures, and unconsciousness.

Ecstasy is usually taken orally, either in capsule or pill form. It can also be snorted, smoked, and injected, all of which cause its effects to occur sooner.

Methamphetamine, commonly known as crystal meth or speed, is a synthetic stimulant made by adding a potentiating methyl group to the amphetamine structure. It was originally developed as a treatment for several conditions, including breathing disorders, epilepsy, obesity, and depression, and it was sold over the counter as "pep pills."

Amphetamine causes a release in the brain of the neurotransmitter dopamine and inhibits its reuptake by cerebral neurons. The flood of dopamine affects mood, self-perception, and energy.

Methamphetamine shifts the body into overdrive; it increases heart rate, makes the user feel strong and energetic, enhances physical performance and stamina, and causes euphoria. For these reasons, it is sometimes used before sex. High doses and overuse can severely impair judgment and cause disorganized behavior, psychosis, aggressiveness, and hallucinations—behavior similar to that seen in people with schizophrenia.

Methamphetamine is snorted, swallowed, smoked, or injected, though swallowing it in pill form is probably most common in the party scene. When swallowed, its effects can last for up to 6 hours.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 04 Dec 2001

Last Modified: 06 Oct 2015