Intended for healthcare professionals


Sildenafil (Viagra) is used as a recreational drug in England

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 06 March 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:669
  1. Judith Aldridge, Senior research fellow,
  2. Fiona Measham, Senior research fellow
  1. Social Policy for Social Problems (SPARC), Applied Research Centre, Manchester MI3 9PL

    EDITOR—To add to the debate about the use of sildenafil (Viagra) recreationally, we have evidence of such use by apparently healthy women and men in England.

    Our two year study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council explored the health of customers in night clubs, looking in particular at illicit drug use. As part of this research, 2056 customers completed short structured interviews in three clubs in north west England over six months in 1998. Fieldwork in two clubs occurred before sildenafil was licensed in the United Kingdom (September 1998). In the third club it occurred during October. Interviews with customers and staff showed that supplies of sildenafil were readily available in the third club for £10 a tablet (50 mg). We therefore incorporated questions on sildenafil usage into the survey (n=519).

    Sildenafil was used as a recreational drug by 15 respondents (3%) (10 men, 5 women; 14 white, 1 African-Caribbean; mean age 26, range 19-34). All reported having used at least one other illegal or illicit drug in their lifetimes. Fourteen had used amyl nitrite (poppers), 13 amphetamines, 13 cannabis, 11 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (“ecstasy”), 10 cocaine, 8 (γ-hydroxybutyric acid, 6 lysergide (LSD), 5 tranquillisers, 2 crack cocaine, and 1 heroin. Fourteen had used drugs within the previous three months. Most reported having taken sildenafil simultaneously with illegal drugs (methylenedioxymethamphetamine, cocaine, cannabis), illicit drugs (amyl nitrite, (γ-hydroxybutyric acid), and alcohol.

    Some used sildenafil in clubs, others at home. All reported positive effects: enhanced sexual desire and love making and feelings of “warmth.” Fewer than half reported negative effects: headaches, genital soreness, and intoxication. All said they would take the drug again, which had been obtained from friends, dealers, sex shops, and the internet.

    These results show potentially dangerous recreational use of sildenafil in combination with other drugs. The combination with amyl nitrate is particularly worrying as both drugs dilate blood vessels, which can result in a dangerous drop in blood pressure and possibly myocardial infarction or stroke.

    Within weeks of being licensed sildenafil was available in English night clubs, which shows the willingness of women and men to experiment with drugs. Our findings also provide further evidence for the normalisation of recreational drug use in Britain.