What is Rohypnol?

"Roofies." Sounds like a cartoon character or a piece of candy. However, nothing could be further from the truth about Roofies, also known as the drug Rohypnol.

Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam) is a type of benzodiazepine, a class of drugs that depresses the central nervous system. You may have heard of Valium and Xanax. These are also benzodiazepines used as sedatives and antianxiety agents. Rohypnol was developed as a sleeping aid. It is also used in therapy settings to relax patients and to get them talking. Rohypnol is manufactured in Europe and Latin American and is sold in many countries around the world. However, it is illegal in the United States and Canada. The pills are round, white and smaller than aspirin.

Because Rohypnol is inexpensive, it is becoming popular with high school and college students. In the US, Rohypnol is used mostly at parties, and usually taken with alcohol. It has a synergistic effect with other drugs such as alcohol. This means that one drug increases the effect of the other.

Rohypnol Tablets

Image courtesy of the
U.S. Department of Justice

Behavioral Effects of Rohypnol

Rohypnol can produce amnesia (memory loss) and muscle relaxation and make people lower their inhibitions. An inhibition is when you feel like you can't do something. When inhibitions are lowered, people feel as if an obstacle has been removed. Therefore, they can talk more freely and feel less shy.

Because Rohypnol is colorless, odorless and flavorless, it can be slipped into drinks unnoticed. This is one reason this drug is so dangerous. People may consume it without knowing it. It dissolves quickly and takes effect in 20-30 minutes. Its effects can last 8-12 hours. Within the past few years, Rohypnol has become known as the "date rape" drug. People will come home from a party and have no idea what happened to them because they unknowingly ingested Rohypnol, passed out, and woke up several hours later with no memory of the evening. To address this new use, Congress passed the "Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996" to increase federal penalties for the use of any controlled substance to aid in a sexual assault.

Continued, repeated use of Rohypnol may result in addiction and although Rohypnol is a sedative, it can cause aggressive behavior in some people. Withdrawal symptoms may occur and include headaches, sore muscles, hallucinations, convulsions, and possibly seizures 1-2 weeks after quitting the drug.

Although overdoses are rarely fatal, emergency services are sometimes required because Rohypnol can cause a person to vomit, hallucinate, have trouble breathing and fall into a coma. When Rohypnol is combined with alcohol the outcome is usually worse.

Street names for Rohypnol include rophies, ruffies, R2, roofenol, Roche, la rocha, rope, roopies, ropies, and rib.

Effects of Rohypnol on the Brain

The benzodiazepines influence behavior by interacting with receptors on neurons in the brain that use the neurotransmitter called GABA. When GABA binds to receptors, it usually inhibits a neuron and acts to reduce neuronal activity. When benzodiazepines attach to GABA receptors, they increase GABA binding to other receptors. In this way, benzodiazepines enhance the effects of GABA and reduce brain activity.

The fact that there are receptors for benzodiazepines in the brain suggests that the brain makes its own type of benzodiazepine. The brain has been found to make its own morphine, the endorphins, but the brain's own benzodiazepine has not yet been discovered.

Hear It
"Benzodiazepine" "Endorphin" "GABA" "Rohypnol"


For more information about Rohypnol, see:
  2. Flunitrazepam - from the US Dept. Justice
  3. "GHB, Rohypnol take sedatives into the party scene," Seattle P-I, August 3, 1999.


GO TO: Alcohol Amphetamines Caffeine Cocaine
Heroin Inhalants LSD Marijuana
Nicotine Ecstasy Rohypnol 1,4-Butanediol
GHB Barbiturates PCP Hallucinogenic Mushrooms

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Page prepared by Ellen Kuwana, Neuroscience for Kids Staff Writer.
Page was last updated on May 17, 2005.