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How Does Rohypnol Addiction Affect the Brain?

When Rohypnol is taken, its effects are felt almost immediately. Repeated use of the drug can quickly lead to Rohypnol addiction, and this affects the brain immensely.

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Most of the brain changes that occur with long-term benzodiazepine use are reversible, however. Comprehensive addiction treatment is needed to ensure a robust recovery.

How Is Rohypnol Used?

Rohypnol is a depressant that is currently not approved for medical use in the United States. The generic version of Rohypnol is flunitrazepam. 

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It is commonly referred to as the date rape drug due to its use in facilitating sexual assault. Other common street names for Rohypnol include the following: 

  • The forget me pill
  • Mexican Valium 
  • Ruffies
  • Circles

Rohypnol is sometimes used by people who use cocaine to relieve some of the after-effects of using cocaine.

How Does Rohypnol Affect the Brain?

Rohypnol works similarly to other benzodiazepines. When consumed orally, the drug enters the bloodstream via the stomach and small intestines, where it eventually reaches the brain and penetrates the blood-brain barrier. It then ultimately provides a psychoactive effect.

Rohypnol works specifically by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is responsible for regulating mood and affect. GABA plays a role in calming the activity of the sympathetic nervous system after experiencing sensory arousal. Because of this, a sedative effect ensues, and this can lessen feelings of stress and anxiety. 

Rohypnol decreases communication between the neurons, which induces a depressant effect. This can lead to drowsiness and confusion.  

Processes & Mechanisms by Which Rohypnol Affects the Brain

Rohypnol binds to GABA receptors, causing a disruption in the ability for these neurons to communicate with one another. As the drug stimulates GABA activity and results in a sedation of the central nervous system, this produces a feeling of calmness and relaxation. 

For this reason, Rohypnol and other benzodiazepines are highly effective in reducing acute symptoms of stress, anxiety, and panic. In some cases, flunitrazepam has been used to manage symptoms of withdrawal during alcohol detoxification. 

However, Rohypnol is more powerful than many other benzodiazepines, and its links with coma and death have prevented the drug from being approved for medical use in the United States. There is no legal use for flunitrazepam in the U.S.

How Rohypnol Alters the Brain

Rohypnol can alter the brain both acutely and for long periods of time. The extent to which Rohypnol alters the brain can depend on a range of factors, such as these:

  • Dosage taken
  • Frequency of use
  • Duration of use
  • Genetic factors
  • Age
  • Body mass
  • Liver functioning
  • History of drug use

Short-Term Effects of Rohypnol Addiction on the Brain

Rohypnol acts quickly on the brain to cause a heavy sedative effect. This effect and its connection with many crimes in which the perpetrator subdues a victim has led to its street name of the date rate drug

While Rohypnol abuse isn’t as common as other types of benzodiazepine abuse, use of the drug can be habit-forming in some cases. The effects of addiction to this drug can be severe. Some of the acute effects of the consumption of this drug include the following:

  • Loss of psycho-motor coordination and functioning
  • Drowsiness
  • Heavy relaxation and sedation

These effects occur due to active ingredients in Rohypnol acting on the GABA receptors, disrupting communication and resulting in a feeling of calm and relaxation. However, this effect is not desirable for extended periods of time and can even be dangerous. Rohypnol has a much more powerful effect on the brain than Valium or other types of benzodiazepines. 

Rohypnol can also impact decision-making, leading individuals to engage in risky behavior that they would normally avoid. 

Long-Term Effects of Rohypnol Addiction on the Brain

Rohypnol also has long-term effects on the brain. If you become addicted to the drug, you may begin to feel like you cannot function without its presence. 

You may also begin to feel like you need more and more of the drug to achieve a similar effect. This is due to your body’s tolerance and physiological dependence on the drug. This occurs when the body has become accustomed to the presence of the drug and has altered its production of neurochemicals like GABA in order to account for the heightened GABA activity that has resulted from Rohypnol use. 

The development of a Rohypnol habit or addiction will also eventually lead to withdrawal symptoms when the drug is discontinued. These are common withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinuation of Rohypnol:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea 

If you have developed a Rohypnol addiction, it is critical to seek treatment as quickly as possible to avoid long-term damage and adverse effects on virtually every area of your life. Treatment will include medical detox to ensure your safety during benzodiazepine withdrawal and comprehensive therapy. 

Are the Effects Reversible?

Some of the effects of Rohypnol are reversible. For example, after a successful tapering schedule and medically supervised detoxification process, the body and brain will no longer be dependent on the drug. 

You will likely be able to recover from acute effects of Rohypnol consumption, such as confusion, drowsiness, and impaired muscle coordination. However, some of the effects of Rohypnol on the brain may not go away immediately following discontinuation. For example, one study showed that increases in nitric oxide concentration in the gastric tissues of those given doses of Rohypnol were not reversible. 

The effect of Rohypnol on the central nervous system can potentially increase your lifetime risk of many other conditions if you have consumed the drug for extended periods at particularly high doses. Some of the conditions and complications you might experience based on the effects of Rohypnol on the brain and central nervous system include the following:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Depressed heart rate
  • Amnesia 
  • Fainting
  • Confusion and/or distorted perception
  • Chronic fatigue and sedation

Based on these potential long-term effects and the risk of use on several comorbidities, Rohypnol is not medically approved and is not an optimal solution for symptoms of anxiety. It is best to speak with your doctor about alternatives if you are experiencing anxiety or insomnia and considering use of Rohypnol. 

It is also critical to speak with your doctor if aiming to discontinue Rohypnol use. If you suddenly stop taking the drug, it can trigger a dangerous withdrawal syndrome. Medical guidance is necessary to ensure safety and the highest chances of a successful recovery.

Updated March 21, 2024
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  2. Hypnotics and Sedatives. (March 2021). Introduction to Basics of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
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  4. Suppression of Glutathione System and Upregulation of Caspase 3-Dependent Apoptosis Mediate Rohypnol-Induced Gastric Injury. (September 2022). Redox Report.
  5. Intravenous Flunitrazepam in the Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium. (August 1993). Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research.
  6. Abuse of Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) And Other Benzodiazepines in Austin and South Texas. (August 2012). Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.
  7. Challenges of the Pharmacological Management of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal, Dependence, and Discontinuation. (May 2018). Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology.
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