It's almost like giving Kim Jong II a nuclear weapon or it's like giving Darth Vader all of Inspector Gadget's cyborg devices. Or — if you prefer a Lord of the Rings analogy, it's like giving Sauron X-ray vision.

Let me introduce you to this little white pill called Rohypnol (ro-hip-nol), an incredibly dangerous weapon in the hands of the wrong people. And if you haven't heard of it as Rohypnol, you're more likely then to know it by its more common street names, like "roofies", the "forget (me) pill" or "the date rape drug".

Rohypnol — The Abusive Potential

Put it in a drink and it dissolves quickly. Official tablets from the supplier Hoffman-LaRoche will turn blue when dissolved, but counterfeit Rohypnol is available on the black market which dissolves colourless. It has no taste, and no smell, so victims easily ingest it unknowingly.

Did You Know?
Rohypnol is tasteless, odourless, and mixes easily in drinks.

Then in 15-30 minutes, Rohypnol begins to take effect. The victim feels disoriented, as if they were drunk. Other common symptoms are muscle relaxation, dizziness, headaches, difficulty moving or speaking, and decreased inhibitions.

Now the predator, can escort the "drunk" person home, taking the victim to an area of seclusion. The drug eventually causes the victim to lose consciousness, making the victim very vulnerable to attack.

Did You Know?
Rohypnol is a powerful tranquillizer that produces strong sedative effects, especially when mixed with alcohol.

Rohypnol has been used for both drug-assisted rape and drug-assisted robbery, and both males and females are victims of drink spiking. Sometimes victims wake up in the street with all their valuables missing.

Sometimes victims wake up feeling as if someone did something to them while they were asleep. And sometimes, victims never wake up at all. Although overdoses with Rohypnol by itself do not generally cause death, a combination of Rohypnol with alcohol can be fatal.

Another scary fact is that the victims usually have no memory of what happened. Rohypnol causes what is called "retrograde amnesia", which is the loss of short term memory.

For this reason, most victims have no idea what happened to them when they wake up. Rohypnol is also difficult to detect, because the body removes it within 72 hours. Because Rohypnol is so dangerous, it cannot be legally prescribed in Canada or the United States.

Rohypnol - Pharmacology

Rohypnol belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are drugs which have a variety of effects, including induction of sleep, relaxation, relief of anxiety, prevention of convulsions, muscle relaxation, and amnesia. This makes them useful for the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, agitation, seizures, muscles spasms, and alcohol withdrawal. They are also sometimes used before various medical procedures to reduce tension and anxiety.

Did You Know?
Rohypnol belongs to the same class of drugs as Valium. The sedative effects of Rohypnol are 7-10 times greater than that of Valium.

How do benzodiazepines do this? Well imagine the brain is like a big fancy speaker system. When you're wide awake, the speaker system is on full blast and playing fast hip hop music. Now let us throw benzodiazepines into the picture....

Benzodiazepines act on what are called GABA receptors; proteins, which exist on surface of neurons (brain cells) in the brain. When these receptors are activated or turned on, by say Rohypnol, the neurons become more quieter, and difficult to excite. Give a little bit of benzodiazepines to the brain and it's like turning down the volume. Give larger amounts and then we change the music to boring elevator music. Basically the brain slows down, and decreases its activity.

Did You Know?
Rohypnol is intended to control severe and debilitating sleep disorders.

It's a shame that there exist people in this world who make the decision to hurt others for their own personal interests. Because of this, it is important to be careful and protect yourself and your friends. Don't leave drinks unattended, and don't accept drinks that you didn't see made. Avoid drinking from opened containers and sharing or exchanging drinks. Drink slowly, and if you feel intoxicated after only 1 or 2 drinks, seek help.

Article first published December 10, 2007

Learn More!

More information on Rohypnol and date rape:

University of Ottawa: Facts and References

Dawn Ontario: The Disabled Women's Network Ontario

Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Men Against Sexual Assault

More information on Rohypnol and robbery:

Guardian Unlimited

Guardian Unlimited

More information on benzodiazepines:

Tranquilliser Recovery and New Existence

Drug Addiction and Advice Project

Charney DS, Mihic SJ and Harris RA. Hypnotics and Seatives. In: Hardman JG, Limbard LE and Gilman AG, eds. Goodman & Gillman's: The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics. 10th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2001:399-427

Rang HP, Dale MM, Ritter JM, and Moore PK. Pharmacology. 5th ed. Edinburgh, UK: Elsevier; 2003:515-524

Tony Lim received his BSc in Pharmacology from the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC) and is now pursuing an MSc at McGill University (Montreal, QC), also in the field of Pharmacology. He loves science and is very passionate about it – he chose to study pharmacology because he hopes that one day he can create drugs that improve the lives of the ill and save lives. When he’s not busy at research, he’s often found playing badminton, volleyball or reading manga.

Tony Lim

I am a graduate student pursuing a PhD in the neuroscience program at McGill University. In addition to neuroscience, my scientific interest and background lies in the field of pharmacology. When not at the lab, I enjoy playing volleyball, badminton, snowboarding and playing electric guitar with the band in my spare time.

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