Research published today by City University, London has found that up to twenty ten per cent of gay men in London have tried the clubbing drug crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth). Of these men, most use it only infrequently.

Crystal meth is a very strong stimulant which brings on an intense feeling of euphoria and lowers the user’s inhibitions.

Research was split between a group of 700 gay men questioned at sexual health clinics and 500 gay men questioned at gyms in London.

Of those quizzed at sexual health clinics, 13 per cent of HIV positive men and eight per cent of HIV negative men had used crystal meth in the previous year. However, less than one per cent claimed to use crystal meth at least once a week.

The research also found that gay men were less likely to have used crystal meth than than other recreational drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy or ketamine. Worringly, gay men who use crystal meth were between two and three times more likely to have unsafe sex as those who do not use the drug.

The researchers also surved 500 gay men (with no questions relating to HIV status) attending gyms in central London. Of these, 19.5 per cent reported using crystal meth at least once a year.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Jonathan Elford from City University, London, said: “The research represents some of the first data on crystal methamphetamine use among the wider population of gay men in London. It shows that while 13% of HIV positive and 8% of HIV negative gay men in London have used crystal meth, most are infrequent users. We also know that use in the capital remained static between 2003 and 2005 and the levels reported here are not on the scale of crystal methamphetamine use in parts of the USA.

“However what is clear from the research in the gyms is that crystal meth is a part of the London gay club-drug scene. Health promotion and awareness campaigns around crystal meth must therefore focus on the gay club scene to have maximum impact.”

He added: “We found that men who used crystal meth had also used other recreational drugs. In addition, we found a clear link between crystal meth use and unsafe sex. Men who used crystal meth were at least twice as likely to report unsafe sex as other men. However, it’s important to note that this was also true of men who used cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine.

“What we don’t yet know is the nature of the association between drug use and high risk sex. It could be that some gay men follow a riskier lifestyle in general and crystal methamphetamine is simply part of this picture. More research is needed in this area to establish cause and effect. So while we can’t say that crystal meth use leads to unsafe sex, we need to be aware of the link between the two. Research into specific episodes of drug use and high risk sex would throw light on this issue.”

Will Nutland, Head of Health Promotion at Terrence Higgins Trust said: “This research adds to the growing understanding of crystal meth use among gay men in London and helps to ensure that our educational responses are properly grounded in evidence. As with other recreational drugs, crystal meth is used more by gay men with HIV and men who are part of the commercial gay clubbing scene. The Trust’s LADS outreach team has recently doubled its drugs education work in Vauxhall’s gay scene to continue to help gay men understand the effects of recreational drugs.”