Chemicals that double up as date-rape drugs are to be outlawed

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The Independent Online

Two freely-available chemicals which can be used as date rape drugs are to be banned.

The substances are widely sold as cleaning fluids and industrial solvents, but also have the effect of sedating a victim if they are absorbed into the bloodstream.

Ministers are also preparing to outlaw 26 anabolic steroids amid fears that growing numbers of teenage boys are using them for body building.

Gamma-butyrolactone, known as GBL and used as a superglue remover, and 1,4 butanediol (1,4-BD), known as "One Comma Four" or "One Four Bee", used in the manufacture of some plastics, have soared in popularity as club drugs. They can be bought legally on the internet. Their effects are identical to gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), banned five years ago after being implicated in sex attacks.

Both substances had remained legal because of their widespread use in the plastics industry. They are contained in such diverse products as nail varnish removing pads, the coating of toys and motorcycle chain-cleaning fluid.

They are colourless, odourless liquids that can be bought for £20 in small bottles. A few drops in alcohol can bring on euphoria, loss of inhibition and amnesia and can cause loss of consciousness. An overdose can lead to a coma. Scientists warned last year that they could be contributing to the "significant problem" of drug-aided rape.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs raised the alarm over the extent of GBL abuse among clubbers, particularly on the gay scene. One casualty unit in London has treated 158 people for suspected GBL poisoning in recent months. A seven-year-old girl from south London nearly died after eating beads coated with 1,4-BD.

A Home Office spokesman said the intention was to ban the two substances, classifying them as class C drugs. He added: "The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs found they were increasingly being used as a legal substitute for GHB, particularly as a club drug, and can lead to dependence, unconsciousness and even death by intoxication."

The Home Office also intends to outlaw 26 anabolic steroids and growth-enhancing drugs, making them class C substances.

Steroids, usually associated with athletes and bodybuilders, are banned by sports authorities but are not controlled drugs.

Steroid use has been linked to high blood pressure, liver damage, stunted growth and heart problems. They can also shrink the testicles, enlarge male breasts and cause sterility.

Vernon Coaker, a Home Office minister, said: "Some people may think that anabolic steroids can enhance [athletic] performance, but they can in fact have serious health consequences."

Gerry Sutcliffe, the Sports minister, added: "With the 2012 Games coming ever closer, we must ensure drug cheats and those trafficking banned substances have no place to hide."

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