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New Drug Phenom: Ecstasy + Viagra = 'Trail Mix'

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WebMD Health News

July 20, 2001 (Washington) -- It's called trail mix, and it's a far cry from the healthy blend of fruits and nuts you'd take on a hike, say the experts.

Instead, it's the latest party drug craze, consisting of ecstasy -- known to cause an intense high -- and Viagra, which is used to improve sexual prowess. For now, the primary users are gay men in New York City and Boston where trail mix is showing up at dance parties and clubs.

"It's not necessarily sexual; if people want it to be sexual, they'll put [the stimulant] methamphetamine in it. It's just considered a more interesting version of [ecstasy]," Patricia Case, ScD, of the department of social medicine at Harvard Medical School, tells WebMD.

Nor is trail mix limited to gay users; Case says many heterosexual men and teens are trying it as well. There are many popular variants of the drug combination, which is ground up into a powder and snorted. Ketamine, a cat tranquilizer, can sometimes be added to offer a mellower, longer high, but at a price.

"The down side is that the stimulant effect of the [ecstasy] can override the perception of ketamine, so that people can take too much ... of the trail mix. And the ketamine then puts them into what's called a 'K-hole,' which is a very unattractive state," says Case.

As part of her studies, Case says she sees people unable to walk after taking the blend and some ultimately require medical attention. She describes their appearance as "glassy-eyed."

Case presented her findings at the first international conference on ecstasy under way this week at the National Institutes of Health. Some 600 researchers attended the event sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA.

Ecstasy is one street name for MDMA, a laboratory drug has that has both the power to stimulate the brain and cause a hallucinogenic-like state. Since the mid-'90s when ecstasy first appeared in the rave club scene, it's become an increasing public health threat, according to NIDA's director, Alan Leshner, PhD.

Though illicit drug use was generally down among youth last year, that wasn't true for ecstasy. "The demand is very great, and it has moved out of the club scene," Leshner tells WebMD. "Now what's so alarming is that this year, for the first time, we saw this increase in twelfth graders, tenth graders, [and] eighth graders," he says.

For example, 3.1% of U.S. eighth graders have tried ecstasy, says Leshner, and 8.2% of twelfth graders have used the illicit drug. Overall, it's estimated that more than 100,000 13- and 14-year-olds have taken the drug.

While the high can be intense, so can be the consequences, including possible brain damage or death. Ecstasy acts on two crucial brain chemicals: dopamine, which is linked to stimulation and serotonin, a mood modifier.

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