By Naomi Carr

Last updated: 07 June 2024 & medically reviewed by Morgan Blair

Rohypnol (flunitrazepam), also known as Roofies and the ‘date rape’ drug, is a benzodiazepine that is not produced or prescribed in the US. Rohypnol can cause several side effects, including drowsiness, loss of consciousness, amnesia, and nausea. If it is abused or used for prolonged periods, it can cause severe side effects and dependence.

Rohypnol Side Effects

What is Rohypnol?

Rohypnol is a brand name for flunitrazepam, a benzodiazepine medication. It is a sedative-hypnotic medication with similar properties to Valium (diazepam), although it is up to ten times stronger. Rohypnol is not approved for use in the US, although it is prescribed in other parts of the world, including parts of Europe, Colombia, and Mexico.[1]

Because of its potent sedating effects, Rohypnol is abused by individuals trying to incapacitate victims to commit crimes or assaults against them. This has caused Rohypnol to be commonly known as a ‘date rape’ drug.[2][3]

Although it is a Schedule IV Controlled Substance, penalties for the possession or distribution of Rohypnol in the US are the same as those for Schedule I substances.[4]

What is Rohypnol used for?

Rohypnol has never received approval from the FDA for use in the US. It is used in other parts of the world as a treatment for severe insomnia.[2]

Rohypnol is illegally brought into, sold, and used in the US.[1]

Why do people abuse Rohypnol?

Like other benzodiazepines, Rohypnol is often abused for its sedating and relaxing effects or ‘high’. It is known to be used alongside other substances, such as alcohol and opioids, to enhance euphoric effects. It is also reportedly used following stimulant use, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, to counteract the depression that occurs as the stimulant effects reduce.[1][2]

Rohypnol is extremely potent, fast-acting, and long-lasting, contributing to its abuse potential. It is also reportedly cheap to purchase illicitly, making it a common ‘club drug’. Individuals who abuse Rohypnol might ingest, nasally inhale, or inject it, which can impact the time in which effects are felt and their severity.[1][4]

Some people might abuse Rohypnol if they have developed a tolerance or dependence on a prescribed benzodiazepine. If their prescription is stopped, they may turn to illicitly purchasing a stronger benzodiazepine, such as Rohypnol, to achieve the desired effects and prevent withdrawal symptoms.[5]

People also abuse Rohypnol by using it to ‘spike’ others and make them vulnerable to assault.[6]

Effects of Rohypnol spiking

Giving Rohypnol to an unaware individual is often referred to as ‘spiking’, ‘getting Roofied’, or ‘date rape’. This tends to take place in clubs and bars, where people have open drinks that are left unattended. The victim unknowingly consumes Rohypnol that has been dissolved in their drink, while the perpetrator waits for them to become incapacitated.[2][6]

Because Rohypnol is a potent drug, individuals feel the effects within 20 minutes and can become extremely intoxicated or lose consciousness, with the effects lasting around six hours or longer. These situations can result in the victim being sexually assaulted or robbed, while they are completely unaware.[1]

When it is combined with alcohol, the effects of Rohypnol are enhanced, so individuals drinking alcohol, even in small amounts, are likely to experience severe effects.[2]

Effects of Rohypnol spiking include:[4][6][7]

  • Suddenly feeling very drunk or intoxicated, even after just a small amount of alcohol

  • Becoming very tired and unable to stay awake

  • Being confused or disoriented 

  • Blacking out or losing consciousness

  • Feeling paralyzed or unable to move

  • Loss of muscle and limb control

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Unsteadiness and loss of coordination

  • Memory loss

  • Weakness

Some effects can continue into the following day, including headaches, confusion, and gaps in memory. Often, people who have been spiked with Rohypnol cannot remember anything that happened during that time.[6]

Following concerns about spiking, new Rohypnol tablets were produced that contain blue dye. When the tablet is dissolved in a drink, it turns the liquid blue, helping to show when spiking has occurred. However, Rohypnol tablets not containing dye are still available and distributed legally and illegally, so spiking is not always evident.[1][4]

While victims of drink spiking are never to blame, there are protective measures that can be enacted to help prevent its occurrence, such as: [6][7]

  • Never leave drinks unattended

  • Always watch drinks being prepared

  • Never accept drinks or drugs from strangers

  • If spiking is suspected, inform bar staff and stay with friends 

Common side effects of Rohypnol

Individuals taking Rohypnol, whether prescribed or illicitly, are likely to experience side effects. Common side effects of Rohypnol include:[1][2][3][4]

  • Drowsiness

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue

  • Impaired memory

  • Cognitive impairments

  • Nightmares

  • Tremors

  • Confusion

  • Aggression

  • Agitation

  • Slowed movements

  • Decrease in blood pressure

  • Slurred speech 

  • Weakness

  • Loss of coordination

Severe side effects of Rohypnol

In some cases, particularly if Rohypnol is abused or used for prolonged periods, severe side effects can occur. This includes:[2][3][4]

  • Respiratory depression or failure

  • Heart failure

  • Increased risk of accidental harm

  • Increased risk of physical or sexual assault

  • Long-term memory loss

  • Dependence

  • Withdrawal symptoms

When prescribed, benzodiazepines are recommended only for short-term use, due to the potential for dependence to develop. Prescribed or illicit Rohypnol use can result in tolerance, dependence, or addiction, particularly with prolonged use.[2]

When a tolerance develops, the effects of the substance can no longer be felt to the same extent. This can lead to individuals requiring larger or more frequent doses to achieve the same effects.[5]

Benzodiazepine dependence is more likely to occur with prolonged use but can occur within weeks. If an individual is dependent on Rohypnol, they will require consistent use to prevent the occurrence of benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms. Rohypnol withdrawal symptoms can include mood and behavior changes, anxiety, insomnia, and seizures.[2][3]

Rohypnol overdose

Benzodiazepines have depressant effects on the central nervous system (CNS), which impacts the heart and respiratory system. Rohypnol is a potent benzodiazepine and even small doses can have severe effects on breathing and heart function, which can result in fatal overdose.[2]

If Rohypnol is combined with other CNS depressant substances, such as alcohol or opioids, the risk of life-threatening effects is increased.[3][8]

Symptoms of Rohypnol overdose include:[2][3]

  • Severe sedation

  • Reduced heart rate

  • Slowed or stopped breathing

  • Loss of consciousness 

In the event of a Rohypnol overdose, call 911 immediately.

Getting treatment for Rohypnol dependence

Individuals taking Rohypnol, whether prescribed or illicitly, who have developed a dependence, should gradually reduce their use. Abruptly stopping Rohypnol can result in withdrawal symptoms.[5]

In some cases, particularly with heavy and prolonged use, withdrawal symptoms can be severe and may cause serious psychological or physical effects. Because of this, some people with benzodiazepine dependence may benefit from inpatient treatment, such as a rehab center. In other cases, outpatient treatment may be sufficient.[3][8]

Professional support provided by inpatient or outpatient treatment programs can help manage withdrawal symptoms and the detox process. Treatments provided during and following this time may include:[5][8]

  • Medication: Although there are no approved medications for benzodiazepine withdrawal, some individuals may be prescribed medicinal treatments to help manage unpleasant effects. This might include antidepressants, beta-blockers, sedatives, or anticonvulsants. In some cases, diazepam can be prescribed, as it is a less potent and longer-lasting benzodiazepine than Rohypnol, which may help reduce use.

  • Holistic therapies: Individuals with Rohypnol dependence may benefit from holistic approaches to treatment, such as exercise, nutrition, and mindfulness.

  • Group support: Group therapies, support groups, and 12-step programs can be beneficial throughout the recovery process and provide long-term support for maintaining abstinence.