Nail Polish and Date Rape

Written by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser

The Hindustan Times reports a new use for women’s nail polish: as an indicator for the chemical rohypnol, commonly known as the “date rape drug.” The idea, said to be an invention of four students at North Carolina State University, is still in the development stage.

Interestingly though, the news does not appear to have made it into the common media outlets in North America. Perhaps they think that “date rape” is not a problem on this continent

The Drug

Flunitrazepam or rohypnol, CAS number 1622-62-4, and its close chemical relative alprazolam or xanax, CAS number 28981-97-7, are two of many compounds in the family of benzodiazepines. First developed over 50 years ago in Switzerland, both are psychotropic substances controlled under applicable laws in many western countries. Nevertheless, they appear to be readily available without much problem to people who intend to use them in despicable and illegal ways such as “date rape drugs.”

Of course, the drug’s relatively simple structures, shown below for flunitrazepam, would enable any skilled chemist to prepare it in short order. Presumably that’s what makes the drugs widely available on the black market. (Fig right. Chemical structure of flunitrazepam). flunitrazepam

The Effect

The drugs cause strong amnesia and were used several decades ago in hospitals when deep sedation was needed and they are still widely used for the treatment of sleep and anxiety disorders.

Combined with alcohol their amnesic effect is even more pronounced. Unfortunately, that also makes them so liked by people with bad intentions.

The Idea

The idea of using finger nail polish laced with an indicator that specifically detects these drugs is certainly elegant. Practically speaking though, I doubt the idea will lead to fewer rapes. The problem, as I see it is kinetics. In order to see an effect (such as, for example, a change in color of the nail polish) specificity, sensitivity, and reactivity to these drugs is required. Even if the first two conditions can be met, the third one requires a fast reaction that would not be available with a solid film of nail polish.

My View

Any user of nail polish will know that there is a difference between the liquid nail polish solution applied and the dried solid cover on the finger nails. The former is obviously a liquid and the latter, after a brief period of drying, a non-reactive impervious material. Therefore, any indicator additive within the dry solid nail polish would be rendered inaccessible to a drug dissolved in a drink. At best, trace amounts at the surface of the polish would be available for a reaction, but unlikely to be visible with the naked eye in a dimly lit environment.

For that reason, I regret to say that I doubt very much that this nail polish-indicator idea could be workable. However, a simple plastic strip of the type of modern acid/base “litmus” test strips with the appropriate specific indicator substance (if one can be developed) could provide a way to check for the presence of a drug in a drink and it would be more hygienic too.

Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser  Bio

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Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts
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Dr. Kaiser can be reached at:mail@convenientmyths.com