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Lancashire Drug and Alcohol Action Team (LDAAT) project

This rolling Research Programme (initially October 2010 to November 2012) has been established at the request of LDAAT who are seeking excellence in research to support the development of drug and alcohol services they commission across Lancashire. This project is supported by the employment of a Research Fellow from Copenhagen University, funded by LDAAT and SFI in Copenhagen (Dr Jeanette Øestergaard).

Phase One consisted of alcohol and drug surveys in the night-time economies (NTEs) of towns and cities across Lancashire, and the subsequent analysis and presentation of data to LDAAT management, workers and other stakeholders across and beyond Lancashire. Please visit the Lancashire Drug and Alcohol Action Team website.

Ketamine use in the UK

Ketamine has been identified as part of ‘recreational’ drug repertoires since the late-1960’s. Ketamine first emerged in the rave and club scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s, where it was sold as dance drug tablets, sometimes as counterfeit ecstasy.

Ketamine is now a popular choice of drug amongst a significant minority of clubbers in the UK and is part of a group of ‘club drugs’ commonly associated with EDM club cultures (the others being ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamine). However it is thought that the use of ketamine in the UK is not confined to EDM club-goers, with evidence of its popularity amongst UK festival goers for example.

In January 2006 following a brief government consultation period, ketamine shifted from medical regulation through the Medicines Act to criminal sanction through an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 resulting in its classification as a Class C drug in the UK. In the debate surrounding this criminalisation, interest has grown in prevalence and trends of ketamine consumption. Such information is scarce however, particularly given that ketamine has only recently been included in the British Crime Survey (BCS) after its criminalisation.

Our ketamine research resulted in a special issue of the international journal Addiction Research and Theory (ART) on social, cultural and international perspectives on ketamine use (June 2008) and included a paper by Fiona and Karenza on British ketamine use, alongside a co-editorial:

  • Karenza Moore and Fiona Measham, (2008) "It's the most fun you can have for twenty quid": Meanings, Motivations, and Consequences of British Ketamine Use, Addiction Research and Theory, Special Issue: Social and Cultural Aspects of Ketamine Use, 16(3).
  • Christine Griffin, Fiona Measham, Karenza Moore, Yvette Morey, and Sarah Riley, (2008) Editorial: Social and Cultural Uses of Ketamine, Addiction Research and Theory, Special Issue: Social and Cultural Uses of Ketamine, 16(3).

Below are some links to media coverage about this research:

Please read our press release on the ketamine Special Issue (pdf) .


British Academy Research Project: GHB and GBL Use in the UK

Harm reduction advice on GBL/GHB consumption may be found at:

In February 2009 Karenza and Fiona received funding from the British Academy to undertake a two year research project on GHB and GBL Use. The research project focuses on the contexts, meanings and motivations, and consequences of GHB/ GBL use amongst British people. It also focused on the risks, harms and pleasures of GHB/GBL use.

Research objectives of study

  1. To investigate the contexts of GHB and GBL use amongst British people (notably gay people and those participating in EDM scenes [not mutually exclusive]) situated across various research sites in order to locate GHB and GBL in people’s co/polydrug ‘repertoires’, focusing on when and where the drugs are taken, with whom, and alongside which other substances.
  2. To examine the meanings, motivations and consequences of GHB and GBL use.
  3. To explore the processes of the criminalisation of precursor chemical GBL, specifically in terms of people’s understanding of the legality and illegality of drugs more generally, and relationships between a drug’s legal status and people’s perception and use of it.
  4. To explore issues surrounding the consumption, production and regulation of the contemporary British NTE, particularly the commercialisation, criminalisation and stigmatisation of EDM and gay ‘scenes’ within the NTE, given participants’ illegal drug use, including GHB and GBL.
  5. To develop a harm reduction model and materials relevant to British GHB and GBL users.

Over the past five years in the UK, various substances have been brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, including GHB (July 2003, Class C), psilocybe or ‘magic mushrooms’ (July 2005, Class A), and ketamine (January 2006, Class C). In 2007 the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) advised the UK government that Gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) and 1,4-butanediol (1,4-BD), precursor chemicals converted to GHB when ingested, should be brought under the MDA 1971 as Class C substances (ACMD 2008; see also EMCDDA 2008). Alongside other more long-standing popular illicit drugs such cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, and amphetamines, these recently criminalised substances form part of British young people’s co-drug and polydrug ‘repertoires’ (Measham et al 2001; Newcombe 2007), particularly those young people, known collectively as ‘clubbers’, who participate in electronic dance music (EDM) scenes located in the UK’s night-time economy (NTE) (Malbon 1999; Moore and Miles 2004, Moore 2004) and beyond, including in Australia (Mugaven et al 2007) and the US (Parker et al 2007).

Although British NTE scholars have tended to focus on predominately large-scale, corporate, and alcohol-focused licensed leisure venues (see Hadfield and Measham 2009 for review), recent attempts have been made to understand the place of EDM scenes in contemporary British urban youth leisure (eg. Chatterton and Hollands 2003; Silverstone 2009 forthcoming; Moore 2009 forthcoming). Crucial to such attempts is a more thorough understanding of the ongoing and often contradictory processes of the commercialisation, criminalisation and stigmatisation of EDM scenes, through the use of the Anti-social Act 2003 to prosecute EDM DJs and close EDM venues for example (Mixmag September 2008). It is within the NTE, and more specifically within EDM scenes, that GHB and GBL use is often located, so research on these drugs and their users needs to be mindful of the cultures of these particular environments, including greater or lesser ‘tolerance’ depending on specific EDM scene ‘norms’ (Duff 2005).

Using online questionnaires, Sumnall et al (2008) explored the use behaviours, use functions and subjective experiences of GHB users who attended nightclubs, with ‘recreation’ being the most commonly reported GHB use function. To date, with the notable exception of Sumnall et al (2008), little research has been conducted which focuses on British EDM clubbers’ subjective experiences of GHB and GBL in the contexts (or settings) in which GHB and GBL experiences occur, be they pre-club, in-club or at post-club ‘chill-outs’ (Moore 2006). To date, no research using in-depth interviews has been conducted specifically amongst EDM clubbers within the British NTE focusing on consumption contexts of GHB and GBL; the meanings of GHB and GBL for EDM scenes’ participants; motivations for consumption, including possible pleasures derived from intoxication (Hunt et al 2007; D.Moore 2008; MacLean 2005; O’Malley and Valverde 2004); risks and harms as managed by users (Duff 2003), and social, legal, economic and health consequences users may experience.


What is GHB/GBL

GHB stands for Gamma hydroxybutyrate or Gamma hydroxybutyric acid. GHB is made from gamma butyrolactone (GBL) and Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide. GBL is a prodrug or precurser chemical of GHB. When GBL is ingested, GHB is produced in the body. GBL is used as a recreational drug by itself, and is easily available over the Internet. A milliliter of pure GBL metabolises to roughly 1.6g of GHB, so doses are measured in the single milliliter range, either taken all at once or sipped over the course of a night. Metabolism takes place in stomach and blood plasma. GBL is longer acting and has a shorter onset than GHB. Otherwise, effects are similar to GHB, although weight for weight it is significantly more powerful, meaning dosage must be lowered accordingly. If taken undiluted by mouth, GBL can cause esophageal and gastro-intestinal irritation. It is possible for oral ingestion of GBL to cause nausea and other similar problems, possibly more so than with GHB.

GHB and GBL both tend to be purchased in clear liquid form (although both come in powder form). GHB and GBL liquids look like water although they do not taste like water. GBL has a distinctive taste and odour, described as stale water and as putrid.
The effects of GHB and GBL include increased energy, happiness, talking, desire to socialize, feeling affectionate and playful, disinhibition, sensuality, enhanced sexual experience, muscle relaxation, loss of coordination due to loss of muscle tone, possible nausea, difficulty concentrating, and potential loss of gag reflex.

GHB was made illegal in the UK in 2003, and is now a Class C drug. To bypass GHB laws, home synthesis kits were introduced to transform GBL and/or 1,4-B into GHB. GBL and/or 1,4-B are precursors of GHB. GBL was made illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in December 2009 (Class C). The Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) published a report on GBL and 1,4-BD in 2007. Read the full ACMD report.

One of the fascinating aspects of GBL use is the perspectives of users about a drug which remains, at least for the time being, legal to purchase, and easy to access via the Internet. The clubbingresearch team is particularly interested in the relationship between legality, availability, purchase, use, and perceptions of substances as related to their legal/illegal status. Sheridan and Butler (2009) looked at how the legal status of benzylpiperazine-containing party pills (BZP-party pills) in New Zealand from 2005 to 2008 shaped users’ perceptions of their safety (notably in comparison to ecstasy). Sheridan and Butler (2009) note, ‘Young people saw BZP-party pills as ‘safe’ and of good quality as they were legal/government sanctioned, but also thus of inferior strength, suggesting they could take more of them’ (p.1).

There has been some mainstream media concern about GBL. Following the death of a medical student in Brighton thought to have resulted from GBL ingestion, there were widespread calls in the media (particularly from the woman’s parents) for GBL to be made illegal. Read about this case on BBC News online - Drug ban plea after student dies .

Elsewhere there has been concern about GBL/GHB use in clubs. Recently in an Electronic Dance Music (EDM) club in the North-West of England, the clubbingresearch team saw a notice at the entrance to the premises stating that ‘GHB/GBL USE IS NOT TOLERATED IN THIS CLUB.ANYONE FOUND USING THESE SUBSTANCES WILL BE EJECTED FROM THE PREMISES IMMEDIATELY’. This is particularly interesting given the availability, visibility and social acceptability of ecstasy and MDMA use, and to a lesser extent cocaine and ketamine use, in the same premises and others like it.

Regular use of GHB/GBL can lead to dependency. For more information visit crew2000

Contexts of GHB/GBL

A recent paper on GHB and GBL use in Australia (Sydney) tracking the effectiveness of Australia’s Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) (Dunn et al 2009) noted that alongside an increase in reported use of GHB and GBL in Sydney’s urban centre between 2000 and 2006, users/drug services professionals reported a change in the contexts in which GHB and GBL are being consumed, highlighting how ‘GHB is associated with the “dance scene”, however increasing numbers of Key Experts over time suggested that use also occurred in private homes’ (Dunn et al 2009:3).
The clubbingresearch team are also specifically interested in the contexts in which people are consuming GHB and GBL. Historically GHB use has been associated with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community and/or the EDM scene. We are aware that there is considerable stigma associated with GHB/GBL use (as with ketamine use, see Moore and Measham 2008), leading to the possibility that some users will not be willing to disclose their GHB/GBL use to friends, or to approach drug services such as Lifeline (Manchester) or Crew2000 (Edinburgh) for help if they are concerned about their use.

One useful perspective on the contexts or settings in which drug use takes place is the notion of ‘risk environments’ (Rhodes 2002). Risk environments frame the experience of alcohol and drugs, and relate to the generation of drug related harms. This theory is useful in that it moves beyond thinking of drugs such as GBL/GHB as inherently risky and harmful, but instead looks at the ways in which the contexts (or risk environments) in which they are consumed produces and/or exacerbates certain risks.

An example of the ‘discrete micro-relations including social norms and the local articulations of practice and behaviour’ (Duff 2009:203) of risk environments is the notion that in part a lack of water and ventilation in EDM venues, alongside overcrowding for profitability, insufficient drug-orientated first aid staff training, and repressive security policies (such as strict door searches, which may mean people ‘double-drop’ prior to entry) maximises the possibility of harm from ecstasy use. An example of the ‘diverse macro-structural factors such as prevailing economic, political and bureaucratic arrangements’ (Duff 2009:203) which may generate drug related harms is the policing of the ‘war on drugs’ which means many needle-exchange and safe-injecting sites for intravenous drug users (particularly in the US) work under threat of closure and proactive prohibitive policing of their clients.

The Clubbing Research team is particularly interested in the ‘risk environments’ of GHB/GBL use, including the micro and macro factors which act to shape the experiences of users of these drugs and which may contribute to the production of possible GHB/GBL-related harms. It is in this way that we hope our research will contribute to debates about the policies and practices which create ‘enabling environments’ (Moore and Dietze 2005, Duff 2009), that is environments which enable GBL/GHB users to act in ways which can help reduce possible GHB/GBL-related harms.


Meanings and motivations of GHB/GBL use

Linked to specific contexts in which GBL/GHB is consumed, certain ‘meanings’ of these substances are produced, just as the meanings of all intoxicants, be they legal or illegal, are produced by government discourses, medical professionals, drugs workers, user perspectives, and so on. Within the UK EDM scene for example, research found that ketamine use was highly contested amongst free party (rave) scene participants in South-West England (Riley et al 2008). We understand that GHB/GBL may also be a ‘contested’ drug within GLBT communities and across EDM and other youth leisure scenes. To this end we are particularly interested in users’ understandings of the drug. Do users perceive GBL to be a safe alternative drug to ecstasy for example, and/or perhaps a more potent one? Are users aware of the possible negative connotations of being a GHB/GBL user and have they experienced stigma and/or discrimination amongst their peers and communities for taking GHB/GBL?

Linked to the meanings of GHB/GBL produced by various social actors are the motivations for taking GHB/GBL. This is a slightly different focus to research on the ‘reasons’ why an individual consumes a drug, although to a certain extent a focus on motivations also helps to answer the ‘why do it?’ question. A focus on motivations helps us understand the drug user as an active agent in drug-taking decisions, but also as a social actor who is positioned in a certain way with and against other social actors and organisations, and whose actions are in part shaped by social, economic and material structures, and historical and cultural norms.

Motivations can be explored by listening to and exploring users explanations of why they take certain drugs (and why not others) at particular times (but not others), in specific settings (but not others), and in different ways (but not in other ways), and relating these explanations to broader social contexts such as the way the UK urban night-time economy operates, the history of drug use in rave/club scenes, experiences of GLBT communities, the legal status and ‘reputations’ of certain drugs (including alcohol), and so on.

In light of this we are particularly interested in the ways in which drug takers account for their particular patterns of GHB/GBL use in their own lives. How did they come to consume GHB/GBL? What ‘form’ of intoxication do they seek when they decide to consume a drug in a particular setting? How is pleasure from intoxication maximised by users? Do they usually reach their desired state? If not, why not? And what happens when things go wrong? In this case we are focusing on users of GHB/GBL, but have previously looked at other drugs such as ketamine (Moore and Measham 2006, 2008). Polydrug users, which we expect many GHB/GBL users to be, are a particularly important focus given that many young people across EDM venues and times (pre-club/in-club/post-club chillout), and at festivals and private parties, will be co-consuming substance such as alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis, ketamine and perhaps GHB/GBL.

Consequences of GHB/GBL use

We are interested in the possible consequences of GHB/GBL use, both negative and positive. These might include negative health, professional, legal, and economic effects, and perhaps positive effects around peer group interactions/friendships, and personal identity.


Risks, harms and pleasures of GHB/GBL use

We argue elsewhere (Moore and Measham 2006, 2008, see also) that drugs researchers need to better understand the role of pleasure through intoxication from drug consumption. In addition, we argue that there is a direct relationship between the ways in which drug users attempt to maximise the pleasure they gain from drug consumption and the ways in which possible harm may be reduced, principally via lay harm minimisation activities. An example is the ways in which ketamine users were found to consume small ‘test’ lines before embarking on a ketamine ‘session’ in order to try to gauge the strength of their ‘batch’ of the drug. Ketamine users also reported attempting to minimise their alcohol consumption before and/or during ketamine consumption, given the problems of mixing the two drugs (principally severe nausea and vomiting). Interestingly lay drug harm reduction websites also recommend that small test ‘sips’ of GHB/GBL in liquid form may help the user determine the strength of their ‘batch’ of the drug, alongside emphasising the dangers of mixing GHB/GBL with alcohol (falling unconscious, coma, death).


Barker, H., Harris, S. and Dyer, J. (2007), Experiences of Gammahydroxybutyrate (GHB) Ingestion: A focus group study, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 39(2), pp.115-129.

Chatterton, P. and Hollands, R. (2003), Urban Nightscapes: Youth cultures, pleasure spaces and corporate power, London: Routledge.

Duff, C. (2009), The Drifting City: The role of affect and repair in the development of ‘Enabling Environments’, International Journal of Drug Policy, 20, pp.202-208.

Duff, C. (2005), ‘Charging’ and ‘Blowing Out’: Patterns and Cultures of GHB use in Mebourne, Australia, Contemporary Drug Problems, 32(4), p..605-653.

Dunn, M., Topp, L. and Degenhardt, L. (2009), GHB in Sydney, Australia, 2000-2006: A case study of the EDRS as a strategic early warning system, International Journal of Drug Policy, in press.

Hadfield, P., and Measham, F. (2009 in press), Shaping the Night: How Licensing, Social Divisions and Informal Social Controls Mould the Form and Content of Nightlife, Crime Prevention and Community Safety: An International Journal.

Hunt, G., Evans, K. and Faith, K. (2007), Drug Use and Meanings of Risk and Pleasure, Journal of Youth Studies, 10(1), pp.73-96.

MacLean, S. (2005), “It Might be a Scummy-Arsed Drug but it’s a Sick Buzz”: Chroming and Pleasure, Contemporary Drug Problems, 32, pp.295-318.

Malbon, B. (1999), Clubbing: Dancing, Ecstasy and Vitality, London: Routledge.
Measham, F., Aldridge, J. and Parker, H. (2001), Dancing on Drugs: Risk, Health and Hedonism in the British Club Scene, London: Free Association Books.

D.Moore (2008), Erasing Pleasure from Public Discourse on Illicit Drugs: On the creation and reproduction of an absence, International Journal of Drug Policy, 19(5), pp.353-358.

Moore, D. and Dietze, P. (2005), Enabling Environments and the Reduction of Drug-Related Harm: Reframing Australian policy and practice, Drug and Alcohol Review, 24(3), pp.275-284.

Moore, K (2009 in press) 'The British 'Mainstream' Post-Rave Trance Scene: Exploring Emotional and Spiritual Expression amongst 'Crasher Clubbers', in S. Collins-Mayo and B. Pink-Dandelion (eds.) Religion and Youth, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Moore, K. (2006) “Sort Drugs, Make Mates”: The Use and Meanings of Mobiles in Club Culture, in B. Brown and K. O’Hara (ed.s) Consuming Music Together: Social and collaborative aspects of music consumption technologies, Netherlands: Springer.

Moore, K (2004), A Commitment to Clubbing, Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 16(4), pp.459-465.

Moore, K. and Measham, F. (2008), "It's the most fun you can have for twenty quid": Meanings, Motivations, and Consequences of British Ketamine Use, Addiction Research and Theory, Special Issue: Social and Cultural Aspects of Ketamine Use, 16(3), pp.231-244.

Moore, K. and Measham, F. (2006), Ketamine Use: Minimising Harm and Maximising Pleasure, Drugs and Alcohol Today, 6(3), pp.29-32.

Moore, K. and Miles, S. (2004), Young People, Dance and the Subcultural Consumption of Drugs, Addiction Research and Theory, 12(6), pp.507-523.

Mugavin, J., Swan, A. and Pennay, A. (2007), Ecstasy, Ketamine and GHB: A Review of Users and Victorian Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Interventions, Fitzroy, Victoria: Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre.

O’Malley, P. and Valverde, M. (2004), Pleasure, Freedom and Drugs: The use of pleasure in liberal governance of drug and alcohol consumption, Sociology, 38(1), pp.25-42.

Riley, S., Morey, Y. And Griffin, C. (2008), The Divisive Dissociative: A discourse analysis of the constructions of ketamine by participants of a free party (rave) scene, Addiction Research and Theory, Special Issue: Social and Cultural Aspects of Ketamine Use, 16(3), pp.217-230.

Rhodes, T. (2002), The ‘Risk Environment’: A framework for understanding and reducing drug-related harm, International Journal of Drug Policy, 13(2), pp.85-94.

Sheridan, J. and Butler, R. (2009), “They’re legal so they’re safe, right?” What did the legal status of BZP-party pills mean to young people in New Zealand? International Journal of Drug Policy, in press.

Silverstone, D. (2010), Nightclubbing: Drugs, Clubs and Regulation, Cullompton: Willan.

Sumnall, H., Woolfall, K., Edwards, A., Cole, J., and Beynon, C. (2008), Use, Function, and Subjective Experiences of Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 92, pp.286-290.

Karenza and Fiona would like to thank the following people and organisations for their support for this research

British Academy- project funder

Robert Hollands, Professor of Sociology, University of Newcastle- expert in the consumption, production and regulation of the British urban night-time economy. Professor Hollands has also written on youth subcultures, including EDM scenes, and young people’s drug use.

Duncan Craig, Lifeline- expertise in the production of harm reduction material for dissemination to clubbers, and to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities

Zoe Smith, Lifeline- expertise in harm reduction, and working with young people

Allie Wilson, Assure- expertise in drug-deaths, and working with Drug Action Teams (DATs)

London Drug Policy Foundation- expertise in harm minimisation dissemination to club managers, staff and customers

Anthea Martin, Visiting Research Fellow (Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London)- expertise in interviewing drug users, and ‘problematic’ and chaotic drug users

Steve Rolles, Transform Drug Policy Foundation- expertise in drug laws

Alex Pirona, EMCDDA- responsible for monitoring harm reduction interventions in recreational settings across Europe