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What is ‘shafting’ or ‘plugging’ drugs and why would someone do it?

A friend told me that some people take drugs by putting them up their bum and that this is called ‘shafting’ – is that true? If it is, why would someone do that? Is it more dangerous than swallowing drugs?

Regardless of the type of drug, whether it be legal, illegal or pharmaceutical, it can usually be taken in a number of ways. This is referred to as a ‘route of administration’, i.e., how the substance is taken into the body. The most commonly known methods are swallowing, smoking, snorting and injecting. How a person decides to take a drug will affect how long it takes for it to take effect, as well as the resulting concentration of the drug in the brain (i.e., how intense the experience will be). For example, when a substance is swallowed it will take longer to ‘come on’, as it takes longer to reach the bloodstream and the brain. The ‘high’ will not be as great but the experience will last for longer. On the other hand, when a drug is injected it has almost an immediate and extremely intense effect, but it lasts for a far shorter period of time.

Rectal administration of a drug is commonly used in medical settings with elderly patients, particularly those near the end of life. It is also useful for those who may have difficulty swallowing drugs due to nausea or other conditions.

‘Shafting’, ‘shelving’ or ‘plugging’ as it is sometimes called, is not a particularly common practice amongst most drug users. Those who do use drugs like ecstasy/MDMA or cocaine in this way tend to experiment with this method of use but few do it regularly. It works in a similar way to snorting. The inside layer of the anus is lined with a thin membrane (similar to the mucous membrane found in the nose), and so when a drug comes in contact with these areas it is rapidly absorbed through this tissue directly into the bloodstream. It is important to note, however, that the anus is far more absorbent than the mouth or nose, resulting in the person feeling the effects of the drug far faster.

This fast onset of effect is one of the main reasons why people make the decision to use the drug in this way. In addition, they claim they need less of the substance to get the desired effect. Others, however, report that they were not prepared for the intensity of the effect and felt overwhelmed by the experience and are unlikely to ever try it again.

There is no ‘safe’ way to use any drug. All drug use entails some degree of risk and all routes of administration have the potential to cause harm. Shafting illicit substances like ecstasy/MDMA means that potentially harsh chemicals make contact with highly sensitive mucous membranes, with the most common of all complications being the irritation of the tissues lining the interior of the colon. There have also been reports of shafting causing ulcers and bowel dysfunction.

Most importantly, shafting allows the drug to bypass the body’s initial filtering and safeguards against overdose. When you take a drug orally, your body can respond by vomiting it up if you have taken too much, but this is not going to happen when the drug is absorbed straight into the bloodstream taken rectally. So, in answer to your question, shafting is certainly more dangerous than swallowing a drug in a number of ways.

First published: July 2019

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