Explainer: ‘Mchele’ and how to avoid falling victim

Q&A on 'Mchele' with Dr Lucas Nyabero

There have been stories recently about how men are losing thousands of shillings at the hands of women who prowl entertainment joints and spike their drinks.

The criminals lace the drinks of their targets to make them more vulnerable to theft.

This vice is known as 'Mchele,' a Swahili word for rice. It is called 'Mchele' because the drugs used by the thieves resemble grains of the cereal. 

The perpetrators, primarily women, use so-called date rape drugs, illegal narcotics or prescription medicines.

Minutes later, they 'walk' with their victims out of these nightclubs. Victims regain consciousness hours or days later to the rude shock that their money and other valuables have been stolen.


This vice is known as 'Mchele,' a Swahili word for rice. It is called 'Mchele' because the drugs used by the thieves resemble grains of the cereal. 

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

How it works

The drugs called Mchele are mainly used during surgeries as an anaesthetic and for psychosis, said Dr Lucas Nyabero, the CEO of the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya (PSK).

Some anaesthetic medications numb the brain to induce sleep through more invasive surgical procedures, like those in the head, chest or abdomen. 

Antipsychotic medications are generally used to treat psychotic disorders. One of the side effects of the drugs is sedation, such as sleepiness and slowness.

High doses of these drugs have caused deaths, permanent amnesia and sleepiness lasting several days.

Why the drug is mostly mixed with alcoholic drinks

Both alcohol and the Mchele drugs alter the central nervous system (CNS), thus changing how the brain functions, says Dr Nyabero. Because alcohol and the drugs are CNS depressants, they make the brain work faster.

The CNS is made to do many jobs at the same time. It controls voluntary movements such as speech and walking and involuntary ones such as blinking and breathing. It is also the core of our thoughts, perceptions and emotions.

Some of the drugs used

Rohypnol is a prescription drug used to treat severe insomnia (lack of sleep) and assists in anaesthesia. It is a tranquiliser that can relieve tension and make a person feel very relaxed. It is used illegally as a date rape pill

Overdosing on Rohypnol results in slurred speech, inability to concentrate, poor coordination, dizziness, nausea and memory loss. But it does not kill and makes a person sleep for up to two days.

Amitriptyline is commonly used as an antidepressant, primarily for major depression. It is also used to treat a variety of syndromes such as neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia and migraine. It is also known to treat insomnia because it has sedative effects and thus is widely prescribed as a sleep aid.

Ketamine, sometimes called K, is meant to be used by veterinarians as an anaesthetic for animals. It creates an out-of-body experience that becomes more extreme the more a person takes it. 

Midazolam, a drug marketed under the brand name Dormicum, is a powerful sedative.

Scopolamine is meant to help patients who have nausea and vomiting but can cause hallucinations, confusion and paranoia.

Stilnox is prescribed to induce sleep among people with insomnia.

What to do when you suspect you have been drugged

First, never leave your drink unattended, whether it's alcoholic or not. Go out with a friend you can trust, stick together and look out for each other. Do not drink too much and do not accept a drink from someone you don't know.

If you suspect that a friend’s drink has been spiked, do not leave them alone but instead tell a bar or pub manager, bouncer or staff to keep them company.

Keep talking to them, take them to a hospital or call an ambulance if the situation deteriorates. Do not leave them with a stranger or someone they do not trust, and don't let them go home on their own.

Don't take strangers back to your house or hotel room.

Remember, once the drug is in your system, you cannot vomit it out, and within five minutes, you start feeling woozy.