Around one-in-17 men who have sex with men surveyed in Ireland report taking sexually enhancing drugs within the last year, according to a survey.
The practice, known as 'chemsex', has received particular media coverage in London over the years and, more recently, in Ireland, mostly around the gay party and social scene.
It refers to the use of four main drugs – GHB/GBL (also known as G), crystal methamphetamine, mephedrone, and ketamine – in loosening inhibitions in sexual situations, heightening sexual arousal, enabling users to have sex for hours, or even days, and sex with multiple partners.
Research conducted in Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales was based on over 3,200 online questionnaires completed by men contacted via particular gay websites, such as Gaydar, Recon and Squirt.
Of these almost 50% (1,131) were based in Scotland and more than a quarter (632) were from Ireland.
It found that 38 of the 632 (6%) respondents in Ireland said they had used chemsex drugs in the last year, the same as the overall average.
The rate in the North was the highest with 8.5% of respondents confirming chemsex use in the last 12 months.
The study found that, overall, the mean age was 41, but ranged from 16 to 78, were almost all white, with 82% identifying as gay and 17% as bisexual.
Some six-out-of-10 had a degree or postgraduate level education and the same number were single. Some 8% had tested HIV positive. In addition, 30% said they had attended a sex party/or had group sex in the last year.
A small proportion (1%) of men reported 'slamming' (also known as slamsex), where sex partners inject drugs for higher arousal – but the research pointed out that this represented a fifth of those who reported chemsex in the last year.
The research, led by academics at the University of Glasgow, was published online on Europe PubMed Central.
It said that while the study indicated a seemingly low rate of chemsex use, the behaviour was likely to be higher in large gay urban centres. It also noted the relationship between chemsex and group sex.
The research recommended early identification of those most vulnerable to chemsex-related harm and the need for specialised responses.
Graham Ryall, treatment services coordinator at the Rialto Community Drug Project in Dublin, said 'G' was “incredibly addictive”, but many users didn't see it as such, and that there could be an addiction to the drug, or the sex involved, or to both.
A member of the ChemSex Working Group, comprised of statutory and voluntary bodies, Mr Ryall said overdoses involving G “can be and have been fatal”.