Gay and bisexual men who engage in chemsex are more likely to be newly diagnosed with HIV, hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted infections than those who do not, new research suggests.
Chemsex, a trend in which people take drugs that enhance sex and make them feel uninhibited, usually involves crystal methamphetamine, mephedrone, cocaine, ketamine or other amphetamines.
For the study, published in medical journal HIV Medicine, researchers at St George’s University Hospital in London reviewed information on 1,840 gay and bisexual men who accessed two sexual health clinics in South London between June 2014 and July 2015.
Those who reported they had participated in chemsex were five times more likely to be newly diagnosed with HIV, nine times more likely to be newly diagnosed with hepatitis C and four times more likely to be diagnosed with an STI.
The researchers added that engaging in chemsex – also known as “party and play” – raises the risk of HIV infection as well as other STIs because the use of drugs and alcohol in sexual settings may encourage unprotected sex.
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Although the drugs can make an individual feel uninhibited, they can also cloud judgement and alter a person’s decision-making abilities.
“These are the first published data clearly demonstrating a link between a new HIV diagnosis and Chemsex,” said senior author Dr Aseel Hegazi, of St. George’s University Hospital Foundation Trust.
“At risk GBMSM (gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men) participating in chemsex should access prevention strategies such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, and there is a need to increase public awareness regarding the potential consequences of chemsex.”
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a course of drugs taken before sex to reduce the risk of getting HIV.
The trend of chemsex or “slamsex” – when drugs are injected for a more intense high – has increased in popularity in recent years due to the availability of certain drugs and the rise in dating and hook-up apps.
A French study published in the Contemporary Drug Problems Journal in 2016 found some men who attend chemsex parties were searching for an emotional connection with a partner – and others who had suffered from a serious break-up had used drugs to feel free afterwards.
Lead researcher Romain Amaro explained: “The suffering and loneliness that follow romantic breakups can trigger uncontrolled drug use while feelings of ‘love fusion’ between ‘slammers’ can encourage further risk-taking.
“But romantic relationships can also provide crucial symbolic and material support to place limits on drug use in ways that reduce harm,” Amaro added.