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Flunitrazepam, more commonly known as Rohypnol, is a drug used to treat medical conditions related to the central nervous system (CNS), a major part of the nervous system that comprises the brain and spinal cord. It is sometimes considered a member of a class of tranquilizers known as benzodiazepines, named so because these pharmaceuticals involve the fusion of the chemical compounds benzene and diazepine. Flunitrazepam is highly potent and can be abused.
Polish chemist Leo Sternbach is credited for accidentally discovering benzodiazepine in 1955, with the first of these drugs being chlordiazepoxide. Swiss health-care company F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. released the drug for widespread use in 1960. By making several modifications to the chlordiazepoxide structure, Hoffman-La Roche was also able to put out a string of benzodiazepine derivatives throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Rohypnol, released in 1975, was one of them. First released in Europe, it was available in several other countries by the 1980s.
Flunitrazepam is chiefly marketed as a hypnotic and sedative. The former designation applies to people who suffer from insomnia, or experience difficulty in sleeping. The drug is meant to induce sleep. The latter designation has a similar purpose, but it is more for bringing a sense of calmness.
The drug can also be used as an anticonvulsant to fight against epileptic seizures; an anxiolytic to combat a wide range of anxiety disorders, from panic disorders to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); an amnestic for counteracting the loss of memory, or amnesia; and a muscle relaxant. Flunitrazepam is available as a 1- or 2-milligram tablet to be taken orally. Effects of the drug, such as an overall reduction of CNS activity and brain function, usually appear 15 to 20 hours after it is ingested.
Flunitrazepam’s reputation as a highly potent medication was established by surfacing reports in the mid-1990s of its use as a date-rape drug. When mixed with alcohol—specifically, slipped into a drink, where it dissolves and is consequently undetected—it causes amnesia in the victim and reduces the ability to react. The high level of intoxication it produces when mixed with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine also makes it a popular recreational drug. To combat the abuses of flunitrazepam, Roche has taken larger doses off the market. In the United States, where the drug is not approved, Congress passed the Drug Induced Rape Prevention Act of 1996 to severely punish people who import, possess or distribute Rohypnol.