The British Medical Journal has published an editorial that highlights the need for a focused approach to tackling "chemsex", sex while under the influence of illegal drugs. People who practice chemsex, most often homosexual men, might be severely harming their general health, and clinics might not be able to provide the necessary support, according to the report.
The authors are sexual health and substance abuse specialists from London, including the London NHS Foundation Trust. They looked at London-specific surveys regarding drug use during sex, analysing data from a study of over 181,000 homosexual men from across Europe, since it had specific questions regarding the use of drugs during sex.
The experts report that the number of people having chemsex has increased significantly in recent years, and users could be at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and developing mental health problems from drug dependence. They looked at how doctors and nurses are equipped to assist people who are struggling with party drugs and found that little information is provided regarding chemsex.
"'Chemsex' is used in the United Kingdom to describe intentional sex under the influence of psychoactive drugs, mostly among men who have sex with men," the editorial states. "Chemsex drug users often describe 'losing days' – not sleeping or eating for up to 72 hours – and this may harm their general health. Users may present too late to be eligible for post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV transmission."
Chemsex describes the intentional sex under the influence of psychoactive drugs, usually referred as "party drugs". Among these are mephedrone, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), and crystal meth.
These drugs are often taken together, as some are stimulants and some are sedatives, and they significantly affect the psychophysiology of the user. They can create euphoria, lower inhibition, accelerate your heartbeat and increase circulation. Users report that they take them to feel less self-conscious.
The study focused on London, which has one of the most concentrated chemsex cultures in Europe, but similar trends have been reported in cities across Europe, the U.S., and Australia. There is limited data on the prevalence of chemsex but according to the charity Antidote, a specialist drugs service for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community in London, around 64% of drug users seeking support between 2013 to 2014 reported the use of party drugs for sex.
“A greater integration between sexual health providers and drug clinics is necessary to guarantee the best support for people affected by chemsex.” Jamie Willis, co-author of the study, told IFLScience. Only a limited amount of support material is currently given to clinicians related to party drugs, despite them seeing a significant growth in popularity in recent years. In the U.S. 1% of 12th graders have used GHB.
Dedicated clinics could also provide more information regarding the practice, which would benefit users, clinicians and researchers. The lack of data is detrimental to the advice medical personnel can provide, and it has a significant impact on the people struggling with these drugs.