Last updated: 06 December 2023 & medically reviewed by Dr. Celeste Small
Rohypnol is a sedative depressant that is illegal in the United States. Though originally intended to help those suffering from insomnia, the drug has made prominence as a “date rape drug”.
Like all benzodiazepines, Rohypnol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant and produces sedative effects by inhibiting the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter in the brain.
Rohypnol has been reportedly used in many acts of sexual violence, assault, and rape owing to its ability to incapacitate the victim.
As Rohypnol is often used by substance abusers as a way of enhancing drug experiences, long-term use may also be a sign of a polydrug addiction.
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What is Rohypnol?
Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam) is a benzodiazepine with properties similar to diazepam (Valium). It has been used as an anaesthetic for surgical procedures as well as a short-term treatment for insomnia.
Like all benzodiazepines, Rohypnol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant and produces sedative effects by inhibiting the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory chemical which reduces nerve activity in the CNS, creating side effects such as muscle relaxation, sedation, reduced anxiety, unconsciousness, and memory loss. It is due to Rohypnol’s side effects that the drug has become popular among criminals looking to sexually assault victims.
Rohypnol and date rape
Rohypnol has been reportedly used in many acts of sexual violence, assault and rape owing to its ability to incapacitate the victim.
Sexual predators will often target victims in bars and clubs where they are consuming alcohol, mixing the drug in their drink when they are not looking and taking advantage of the reduced state. This has come to know as “roofying” someone, as the shorthand for Rohypnol is roofies.
While other crimes are often committed by sedating victims with drugs (such as robbery or murder), sexual assault is still the highest reported crime committed, hence the term “date rape drug” being widely synonymous with Rohypnol. Rohypnol is not the only date rape drug, however, as more and more sexual assaults are reported to involve the use of ketamine or GHB on the victim.
Fact: 91% of all rape victims globally are women, and 99% of perpetrators are men.
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault and feel you may have been roofied, it is important to notify the authorities. If you are unsure or want to speak to someone about what has happened to you, there are multiple helplines that can offer assistance and guidance for rape victims. Please see the resources at the bottom of this article for more information.
Knowing the symptoms of being roofied and how to help yourself and others if they've been roofied can ensure you remain safe.
Is Rohypnol a controlled substance?
Rohypnol is technically classified as a Schedule IV drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it holds little risk of abuse or dependence. However, due to its prolific use in sexual assault crimes, the penalties carried for possession, distribution, and trafficking of more than one gram of Rohypnol are in line with those of Schedule I substances such as heroin, meth, or cocaine.
There is also no approved medical use for Rohypnol in the United States and there are no legal avenues to obtaining it. It is still produced and prescribed legally in other areas such as Europe, Colombia, and Mexico. Most of the Rohypnol that is found in the US today has been illegally smuggled in from Mexico.
What does Rohypnol look, smell, and taste like?
When Rohypnol was still widely used in the medical profession before being banned, it was prescribed in the form of a white tablet that dissolved in water. This white tablet had no discernible smell or taste, making it hard to detect when a drink had been roofied.
Modern Rohypnol is now an oblong capsule that is a light green color with a blue core. When dissolved in clear liquids, the blue core will dye the drink blue. This change was made by the manufacturer to help identify if drinks had been tampered with in bars and clubs.
However, the blue dye does not show up well in dark/brown drinks and still has no taste or smell. Additionally, generic forms of the drug may not have the identifying dye.
What are the effects of Rohypnol?
While its use as a date rape drug is widely known, Rohypnol is abused by others for reasons other than criminally assaulting others.
It is also used by heroin, cocaine, and meth users (among others) to boost the effects of the base drug. This can be extremely dangerous and greatly increases the likelihood of accidental overdose.
The effects of Rohypnol (when taken orally and with alcohol) can come on quickly and may last for up to 12 hours, in some cases longer. The common effect during this time include:
Loss of motor functions (ability to stand up, walk, etc.)
Slurred or broken speech
Impaired reaction time
Amnesia (memory loss)
Can you overdose on Rohypnol?
Rohypnol is a very potent form of benzodiazepine and as such has a high risk of overdose if taken in large quantities. The risk of overdosing from Rohypnol is increased when consumed with other CNS depressants such as alcohol.
Symptoms of Rohypnol overdose include:
Impaired coordination and reflexes
Loss of consciousness
Is Rohypnol addictive?
While addiction to Rohypnol is rare, it still has the same interaction with brain function as other benzodiazepines and can lead to physical dependence and addiction if abused.
Long-term use of Rohypnol can cause withdrawal symptoms to present themselves when use stops. Rohypnol withdrawal symptoms include behavioural changes, anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. The appearance of withdrawal symptoms is one of the key indicators of addiction and should be treated as a warning sign.
As Rohypnol is often used by substance abusers as a way of enhancing drug experiences, long-term use may also be a sign of a polydrug addiction. Speak to an addiction specialist today if you are experiencing any form of substance use disorder. Getting help is the first step to recovery.
Rape, sexual assault, and harassment helplines and support
Dealing with the fallout of sexual assault can be extremely traumatic. In fact, 94% of women experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the two weeks following a rape incident.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault or rape and need guidance and support, then speak to a rape crisis team in your area. They will be able to offer counselling, arrange health screenings, and advise about pursuing criminal charges against attackers.
If you have been the victim of rape or sexual assault, then speak to someone today.
RAINN National Sexual Assualt Hotline - North America
Rape Crisis - UK
She Will Survive - India
Respect Government Helpline - Australia
Commonwealth Say no More - Botswana
Rape Crisis Network Europe - Europe
Rape Crisis - South Africa
Centre Against Abuse - Bermuda
*Note: These countries and continent’s have been selected based on the highest reported cases of rape per capita globally. If your country is not listed then please see the Handbook of International Centers for Survivors of Sexual Assault and Harassment which was compiled by the University of Minnesota.