A new UK report has highlighted the impact of “chemsex”, in which gay and bisexual men have sex under the influence of sex-enhancing drugs.
The phenomenon has been growing in the gay community in recent years and often sees men have unprotected and risky sex with multiple partners while using drugs such as mephedrone or crystal meth.
The drugs “facilitate sustained arousal and induce a feeling of instant rapport with sexual partners.” In South Africa these kinds of drugs are also known as tik and cat.
A recent survey of 874 men who attended a chemsex support service at the 56 Dean Street clinic in London found high levels of unprotected sex and hepatitis C among both HIV-positive and HIV-negative men and a high frequency of injecting drug use.
“The prevalence rates of chemsex reported in the 56 Dean study reflect a growing trend in London, with similar anecdotal reporting by both other sexual health clinics and LGBT drug services in the city,” commented Hannah McCall, Senior Staff Nurse in Sexual Health Services at the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust.
“Recent statistics from Public Health England show an increase in STIs in gay men, including an increase in hepatitis C, as well as an increase in the injecting of amphetamines and amphetamine-like substances like mephedrone and crystal meth,” she said.
In an article published in the British Medical Journal, McCall wrote that not only does chemsex often lead to unprotected sex, but it can also result in serious addiction and other mental and physical health issues.
She said that “chemsex drug users often describe ‘losing days’ — not sleeping or eating for up to 72 hours.”
McCall noted that some users report using the drugs not only for recreational and sexual use but to also “manage negative feelings, such as a lack of confidence and self esteem, internalised homophobia, and stigma about their HIV status.”
She said that health services need to pay more attention to these increasingly popular chemsex drugs, in addition to more traditional substances such as heroin, crack cocaine, and alcohol.
“Addressing chemsex related morbidities should be a public health priority,” McCall added.