Home Coffee making Methamphetamine without GHB is like “coffee without cream”

Methamphetamine without GHB is like “coffee without cream”

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Justin was selling “Happy Meals” for $135: an ounce of G, an eighth of meth, and two or three of Viagra. Methamphetamine pumps your brain with dopamine, G makes you horny, and Viagra keeps you erect.

“It’s all the things that make you feel happy and loved and then also with the extra boost so you can perform,” said Justin, who asked that his last name not be released.

For gay people in San Francisco, the “meth problem” is more than just a drug. It’s about gamma hydroxybutyrate, GHB, or G, which is often used alongside methamphetamine, and it’s also about sexual and mental health. This trio – codependency, sex and trauma – is fueling the demand for Happy Meals.

“The majority of gay men I’ve worked with have also used G at least to some extent with Crystal [meth]said Kevin Shone, the substance abuse counselor in charge of the UCSF Alliance Health Project. He has worked with meth users for more than 20 years in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Because the meth high is so extreme, he explained, many users experience a debilitating feeling of depression that can last for up to a week. G then provides a brief respite during the descent, distracting from the overwhelming side effects of the meth. Sometimes gay people use both G and methamphetamine to increase pleasure during sex.

But G has a number of counterfeits like gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) and 1,4-butanediol (BD/BDO), which can be more or less potent and look similar. The science of dosage becomes particularly precarious when the person using G is also high in methamphetamine. Shone recalled a patient who came home after a night of partying and started the water in his bathtub before taking some more G. He passed out on the floor and woke up with an inch of water.

“We as a community don’t recognize that it’s an almost equal addiction,” said Justin, 41, who identifies as gay. After being evicted from his longtime apartment in 2014, he felt directionless and began using drugs more regularly. G and meth have become habitual and inseparable for him. “It was never like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to take meth today,'” he recalled with a laugh. “It’s like coffee without cream.”

He spent four years wired to G, meth, and whatever he could find when G and meth weren’t available. “I lived probably 15 years in those four years,” he said. Meth users often forget to sleep, and Justin hasn’t always had a bed either. He moved around, sleeping on couches with friends in Washington, DC, Indiana, Alabama, Florida and California.

When he started dealing drugs in 2018, he wanted help getting sober, but he didn’t know how. He had flirted with 12-step programs like Crystal Meth Anonymous and spent time in a rehabilitation center. One night in October 2018, he was stoned at Aunt Charlie’s salon in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, carrying a half-gallon of G and up to 200 grams of meth in his backpack when he broke down nervous. He was paranoid that he would soon be arrested (another friend who sold drugs had been caught earlier that year). Frantically, he left the bar and headed for a friend’s house. He threw everything – about $2,000 to $5,000 worth of drugs – down his friend’s sewer and cried for two hours while his friend held him. He hoped this would be the end of his drug addiction.

It wasn’t, but it was an inflection point: “That’s when I realized that this thing that I was using, all of these things that I was using, so that I feel good – those were the ones that hurt me the most,” he said.


Kevin Shone is an addiction counselor at the UCSF Alliance Health Project. He has worked with gay and bisexual men who have been using G and methamphetamine for 20 years. Photo: Adam Echelman

G by sickness and health
For many gay men who use G and meth, the goal is to enhance their sexual experience. “I needed the meth to stay awake and kind of ‘up,’ but G was the physical and physiological experience I was looking for,” Justin said.

Together, meth and G also lower inhibitions, making it easier to perform activities with a partner that might otherwise feel shameful. This formula of drugs and gay sex increases the risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The phenomenon of chemically induced sex is known as “chemsex” or in other circles, “party and play”. Even without meth, users who drink G report that they were more likely to have unprotected sex simply because they were high.

Three out of four gay men surveyed by the Bay Area Reporter, for example, contracted HIV from using G in conjunction with other substances like methamphetamine. For Justin, early symptoms of HIV triggered an immune response that aggravated an underlying case of syphilis and led to him being hospitalized for three days.

Beneath these physical and sexual health complications lie deeper mental health issues. “A certain percentage of people who end up having substance abuse issues have a history of trauma,” Shone said.

His team at the UCSF Alliance Health Project includes therapists who help addicts deal with this trauma, but he admits it’s a “double-edged sword”: In the short term, G and meth can ease feelings like depression or anxiety, but over time substance use will make these mental health issues worse. For Justin, these drugs led to episodes of psychosis. Franz Lao, another ex-drug addict who featured in Part 1 of this series, quit taking depression medication because he felt it was interfering with the high he wanted from G and other party drugs like MDMA, also known as Ecstasy or Molly.

A recent study in Germany found that gay and bisexual men had higher rates of anxiety and depression than the general population, but men who used drugs like G and methamphetamine during sex did not differ. many other gay and bisexual men.

G and meth aren’t just a coping mechanism for mental health issues; they are also the basis of a close-knit community of gay and bisexual men. Although they may initially revolve around drugs, relationships between other users often develop into true friendships. When someone takes too many Gs, i.e. “falls”, other users look after that person.

“One of the biggest reasons I’ve used substances in my life is to find ways to connect with other people, especially gay men,” Justin explained.

For people trying to quit using G and meth, the recovery process is as much about the people in their lives as it is about the drugs. Some of these people are friends and family members who have also been injured, and seeking redress for them is part of the twelve-step program followed by Crystal Meth Anonymous users.

Others struggle to navigate relationships with friends who continue to use G and methamphetamine. Shone has even seen many patients develop close relationships with their meth dealers.

“There’s real heartache in giving up on these people,” he said, “Just like there’s real heartbreak in giving up drugs.”

If you’re looking for help, visit the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s Stonewall Project or the UCSF Alliance Health Project.

This is the second in a three-part series on GHB and the gay community. To read the first article, click here.

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