What spiking does to the body

Rates of drink spiking (and of needle spiking) have increased dramatically in recent weeks. Here is some information about what actually happens to the body as a result of being attacked with these drugs.

Marcel Shamshoum
4th November 2021
Drugs used for spiking come in many forms, but are difficult to detect once inside a drink. Image credit: Flickr

Content warning: discussion of spiking

Since the reopening of nightclubs this summer, drink spiking has been on the rise. Understanding what happens to your body after being spiked can help you and others to act accordingly.

To understand what actually happens to your body we need to first identify and take a closer look at some of the drugs used. The most commonly used drugs are sedative drugs, these include benzodiazepines such as valium (diazepam) and rohypnol, commonly known as 'roofies'. Then there are drugs like gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and gamma-butyrolactone (GBL).

Alcohol [increases]... the impacts of these drugs

All these drugs act in a similar way: they enhance the neurotransmitter GABA receptors in your brain (or, in the case of GHB and GBL specifically, they stimulate the production of GABA). In essence, these drugs activate inhibitory neurons that block chemical messages from being received.

It is also worth mentioning that alcohol enhances the GABA receptor activity in the brain, and since most spiking occurs by putting a drug in an alcoholic drink, the impacts of these drugs are further multiplied. This leads to more serious consequences, including the increased risk of overdose.

After being spiked with one of these drugs, a person will start to feel sedated (and as a result feel more drunk). They will experience a marked reduction in cognitive function, hindering the ability of decision making, good judgment and reduce reasoning abilities. Controlling emotions will become harder, which may lead to aggression, violence and hostility. Since many of these drugs are used in the treatment of insomnia and other sleeping disorders, they can easily make a person unconscious, (again, especially when co-administered with alcohol).

BBC3 video about a woman who was a victim of spiking, from the series Ambulance

Another common drug to be spiked with is Ketamine. Ketamine works by blocking receptors in the brain called NMDA, which, unlike GABA, are excitatory. By blocking the NMDA receptor, ketamine causes reduced neuronal excitation. The neuron is shut off, meaning it can no longer fire or release electrical impulses. Chemically, ketamine is very fat soluble, and due to this property it can reach the brain easily and have a very fast onset effect.

Although ketamine has a wide therapeutic window, meaning only very high doses are lethal, it can still have some very serious side effects including dizziness, nausea and vomiting. People with heart conditions are maybe at high risk if administered without medical supervision, as it can cause tachycardia (fast heart rate), hypertension (high blood pressure) and palpitations (irregular heartbeats). There are also gastrointestinal side effects, including biliary dysfunction, epigastric pain and hepatic injury.

These are just a few examples... but there are many other drugs that attackers may use

Furthermore, doses as low as 0.1-0.4mg/kg have been associated with psychoactive effects. A study conducted by Pomarol-Clotet et al. in 2006 suggested that there are four main psychological effects produced by ketamine at these doses:

1. Depression of the central nervous system / intoxicating effect.

2. Perceptual alterations but not hallucinations

3. Delusions and other changes in thinking

4. Negative-type symptoms such as social withdrawal, anhedonia (loss of pleasure), alogia (difficulty in speech) and reduced motivation.

These were just a few examples of some of the most common drugs used and their effect on the body, but there are many other drugs that attackers may use to spike drinks.

For more information on drink spiking visit the NHS guidance https://www.nth.nhs.uk/content/uploads/2017/07/AE2594-drink-spiking-july-2017.pdf

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