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Viagra Meets the Rave Scene


WebMD Health News

Aug. 18, 2000 -- The impotence treatment Viagra might seem an unlikely drug to find at nightclubs or raves, the all-night dance parties popular with teens. But experts say Viagra has begun making the club scene -- especially as an adjunct to ecstasy and "poppers," a combination that is questionable at best.

One rave fan says the combination of Viagra and ecstasy makes some sense. "Ecstasy makes it so you can't get an erection," says Soren Roinick, a Boston-based member of the group DanceSafe, which promotes "healthier" raves. At the same time, he says, it's not as if every raver's got his hand out for a little blue pill. "Ecstasy lowers all your aggression, including your sexual aggression," he says. "You might bond with someone per se, but generally, people at raves are not going home and sleeping with someone."

Still, researchers have taken note of the phenomenon. The practice of combining Viagra and ecstasy is mentioned in an article on the health risks of raves by Erica Weir, MD, a resident in community and family medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, in a recent issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. And in a letter to the British Medical Journal last year, researcher Judith Aldridge of the University of Manchester wrote that her study of 2,000 people found Viagra was being sold illicitly in English nightclubs within weeks of becoming available in that country.

Many nightclub-goers interviewed by the British researchers reported having taken Viagra along with illicit drugs and alcohol. The combination with "poppers" -- vials of amyl nitrate or isobutyl nitrite sometimes used illicitly as an aphrodisiac -- is particularly worrying, Aldridge writes: "Both drugs dilate blood vessels, which can result in a dangerous drop in blood pressure and possibly [heart attack] or stroke."

In the U.S., Roinick says he has seen Viagra use at raves on the West Coast -- though nothing too extensive -- and suggests it's probably more common with older crowds at sadomasochistic offshoots of the dance parties. "Normally, raves are a positive-vibe kind of place," Roinick says. "There's a big drug scene that's not part of the rave scene."

Still, there's little doubt those positive vibes emanating from some of these dance parties have something to do with drugs -- in particular ecstasy, also known as MDMA. Roinick, who admits to being an occasional ecstasy user, says there's a good reason young people are attracted to the drug: "It just makes you feel really, really happy."

But there's little that's happy about the ultimate effects of ecstasy, one expert says -- and, although it's not entirely clear what happens when people take it along with Viagra, the results of mixing Viagra and poppers are definitely grim.

Ecstasy "is a bad, bad, bad drug, no matter what you read" says Wilkie Wilson, PhD, professor of pharmacology at Duke University Medical Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., and co-author of Buzzed: The straight facts about the Most Used and Abused Drugs. The drug, Wilson says, may very well have a long-term effect on mood. "What happens is, as we age, we lose serotonin function. So if you're kicking off a bunch of it when you're young, the end result is depression."

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