The UK is moving towards a crackdown on GHB and GBL—two highly similar depressants, popular in clubs and the chemsex scene, both commonly referred to as “G”—in the wake of the high-profile serial rape conviction of a man who drugged his victims.
On January 6, a judge convicted Reynhard Sinaga of 64 sex offenses and sentenced him to 30 years-to-life in prison. Sinaga attacked men in Manchester, England after drugging them—with G, as law enforcement “believes.” He’s already serving 88 concurrent life sentences for 96 other sex offenses. The Crown Prosecution Service of England and Wales called him “the most prolific rapist in British legal history.”
That same day, a leading figure in the UK government called for reconsideration of G’s scheduling, meaning punishments for possession could be escalated.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, who oversees domestic affairs, requested that the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs “urgently expedites” re-evaluation of the classification and scheduling of G, stating that she wants to “ensure that the potential harms are fully reflected” in their legal classifications.
G has been designated a Class C drug under the British classification system—reckoned to be one of the comparatively “least dangerous” substances—since 2003. Its possession is currently punishable with a fine and up to two years in prison.
G is associated with numerous significant harms for consensual users. Dosing is highly sensitive, and a milliliter too much can be the difference between a pleasurable high and “going under”—a phrase used by chemsex participants, mostly gay men and transgender women, to refer to a G overdose marked by loss of consciousness.
In Britain, the potentially life-threatening experience affects at least hundreds of people each year. One London hospital saw G overdoses almost every day, adding up to over 300 in one undisclosed year, according to a BuzzFeed investigation.
The potentially fatal experience of “going under” on G leaves people vulnerable to sexual violence, and this seems to be the primary motivation behind Patel’s move. In addition to the Sinaga case, she cited that of Stephen Port—a man referred to by British media as the “Grindr Killer” for his use of the gay sex app to invite men to his home, provide them with G (sometimes fatal amounts) and rape them.
These extreme cases of serial sexual violence, sensationalized by British media, are situated within a broader issue of common assaults. More than one quarter of surveyed gay male G-users, most of whom lived in the UK, had experienced sexual assault, BuzzFeed found, and almost everyone knew someone who had been raped while using the sedative. Almost half of the surveyed men who had experienced an overdose reported that they had been slipped the drug without their knowledge.
As the numbers show, G is being weaponized by people with malicious intent. But as BuzzFeed demonstrated, British men are also actively choosing to use, and still facing associated harms.
“Last month, I went to someone’s place and he gave me more G than what I am used to,” one Grindr user told harm reduction worker Ignacio Labayen De Inza, who provides harm reduction education on the app. “I was stupid and didn’t check, I was already high and I didn’t see anything wrong. I passed out, and when I recovered I could see there was cum in my ass and 2 guys were leaving.”
Though media outlets like BuzzFeed UK have focused on what they’ve dubbed the “Chemsex Crimewave,” there are practical ways for consensual users to reduce risk. Harm reductionists advise measuring a dose with a milliliter-marked syringe barrel and knowing the potency of the solution. The latter can be identified by evaporating the solvent—often water—and weighing the remaining residue. As is recommended with other drugs, people new to G ought to start with smaller doses, like one milliliter or less, to see how they react.
Timing is also key to avoiding overdose. The harm reduction slogan “Go Slow” applies here: Taking an additional dose too soon—usually less than two hours after the previous one—can lead to an overdose. When re-dosing, it’s often recommended to take half the previous amount, due to a compounding effect. Using G frequently, such as on a daily basis, can also lead people to develop a dependency, which requires medical supervision due to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Conflating sexual violence with consensual use and increasing punishments for G possession will not address G-related harms, explained Labayen De Inza, the author of the Chemsex First Aid guide and a gay man who was formerly dependent on G.
“G is here and it is here to stay,” he told Filter. “It’s very cheap, it’s very easy to take. There are lots of places to buy it. It helps to increase your feelings, your sensitivity. If you don’t feel very confident, it will help. When you go clubbing and you take the right dose, it’s a nice feeling.”
Labayen de Inza also noted that chemsex participants often use methamphetamine and mephedrone, both of which are categorized in higher classes than G, with tougher possession punishments. He therefore believes that re-classifying G is unlikely to prevent use.
“People love it. We have to be realistic,” he said. “People who are living in this [chemsex] lifestyle, and using Grindr, they don’t have information. There’s lots of information that could prevent what happens.”
Photograph of a nightclub by Santeri Viinamäki via Wikimedia/Creative Commons.