Chem-Sex: Europe's Synthetic Madness

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Chem-Sex: Europe’s Synthetic Madness

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This post was originally published on June 11, 2014.

“Chem-sex parties” are on the rise in the European gay club scene (where, of course, everything that’s anything should be expected to get its start). If you’re wondering how exactly a chem-sex party differs from any other party worth its salt—or the entire time period of 1967-1987—the difference boils down to synthetic drugs. Because regular drugs don’t count as chemicals, I guess? The most popular of these are synthetic cathinones, which mimic the high of speed and ecstasy and apparently make for mind-blowing sex.

Ecstasy’s Cousin

Synthetic cathinones are artificial derivatives of the Khat plant and naturally have acquired adorable feline-inspired street names like Miaow-Miaow. The most prominent among them is mephedrone, which was marketed throughout Europe as a “legal high” until being banned in 2010. Traditionally—aka since 2005—these stimulants have been snorted or swallowed as pills. But the past year has seen a steep rise in cathinone injection, especially in Hungary, Romania and certain London clubs. There are even some disheartening reports of ex-opiate users with long periods of abstinence beginning to inject cathinones.

The EU’s concern over the chem-sex parties may seem like prudish pearl-clutching, but it’s really about public health. “Slamming” synthetics at such parties has been linked with risky behaviors like unprotected sex or, well, worse. One London clinic reported that 75% of its clients who use mephedrone do so “solely to facilitate sex.” And of the 80% of the clinic’s mephedrone users who inject the drug, 75% are HIV positive. There’s a lot of sharing going around at these parties, and it’s not the kind that’s good for you. Plus—shocker!—synthetic cathinones come with the same health risks (and nasty comedowns) of other stimulants like meth and coke. On top of this, they’re often used in conjunction with other drugs like meth, opening up an entire Pandora’s box of potential interaction.

Keeping Up with the Cathinones

For years, Europe’s drug authorities have been using an “Early Warning System” designed to nip problem trends in the bud. But the constant explosion of new synthetic drugs has turned the system into a giant game of regulatory whack-a-mole. 81 new synthetic drugs appeared in 2013 alone, ratcheting the total substance count above 350. While the majority are cannabinoids, synthetics can now mimic every drug you’ve actually heard of. They are easy to buy over the net from China and India, with names that sound like droids from a third-rate Star Wars spinoff. Can’t get a coke hookup? No problem, there’s always MBPV. In the mood for morphine? AH-7921 has got you covered. The past decade of data from Hungary revealed that when mephedrone was banned in 2010, the popularity of its close cousin pentedrone skyrocketed. Creating a new variant is as easy as substituting one molecule for another.

Oh brave new world. You know the future has arrived when even former junkies haven’t heard of half the drugs on the market. Will 12-step groups of the next decade be filled with recovering Miaow Miaow addicts? How many arcade tokens will it take before authorities give up on whack-a-mole?  It remains to be seen. In the meantime, don’t say we didn’t warn you about chem-sex.

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About Author

Erica Larsen

Erica Larsen blogs at Whitney Calls and CleanBrightDay and is working on one book too many at the moment. She lives in Los Angeles with an enormous cat.

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