Clubbers at risk from lethal but legal drug

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Amid the sweat and adrenaline fuelled by the pounding music and swirling lights of the dance culture, a new menace has emerged.

Amid the sweat and adrenaline fuelled by the pounding music and swirling lights of the dance culture, a new menace has emerged.

In clubs around Britain, the use of recreational drugs is on the increase, and, as a result of the reclassification of GHB, users are changing to a new drug ­ GBL.

Experts claim that GBL is also growing in popularity as a date-rape drug.

GBL, like GHB, is a clear odourless liquid usually sold in small bottles or capsules, costing around £15 for 30ml. The normal dose ­ a teaspoon or capful ­ makes users happy, sensual and uninhibited, and the effects can last all day.

However, excessive amounts, if mixed with alcohol or other drugs, can cause a potentially fatal fit or seizure.

"The difference between life and death with this substance is the blink of an eye," said David Hingston, a criminal lawyer. "It really is frightening stuff. It is impossible to say what a safe dosage is. The drug gets worse if mixed with other drugs and the kind of people taking this 'liquid ecstasy' are very likely to have had other drugs. It becomes a loaded pistol pointed at people's heads."

Mr Hingston said he was worried that dealers were misleading users by calling the drug "liquid ecstasy".

"Ecstasy is very common and the public at large don't accept it as being dangerous, so when they are given this 'liquid ecstasy' they think they will be able to handle it. A very large percentage of the young public take ecstasy and if they think this is the same there is a danger that it could lead to a tragedy."

While GHB is a class C drug, which makes it illegal to carry, give away or sell, with a sentence of up to 14 years for supplying GBL, commonly used as a floor stripper, is not covered in the same way.

In the London borough of Lambeth, home to one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities within the Metropolitan area, use of GBL and GHB has exploded over the past year. At 16 venues, including pubs, saunas and clubs, the police, in conjunction with the Terrence Higgins Trust, have launched an awareness programme to warn clubbers of the risks.

GBL has also been linked with date rapes. Graham Rhodes of the Roofie Foundation, a specialist agency dealing with drug rape, said it had become concerned at the emergence of GBL. "We have only heard about this recently. Although we have not come directly across it yet, we know it is around and we are very alarmed," said Mr Rhodes.

The organisation has recorded more than 6,000 incidents of date rape in the past eight years, of which about 15 per cent were from men attacked by men. It is estimated that drug-assisted rape is one of Britain's fastest-growing crimes and among the number of substances used by attackers is GHB.

"GBL is a derivative of GHB and is beginning to do the rounds," Mr Rhodes said. "GHB only becomes a date-rape drug with the addition of alcohol and we are worried that this GBL will be same."

Like GHB, it is metabolised quickly by the body so there may be little physical evidence to support a claim that drugs were used in an assault.