What is GHB?

GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyric acid, is a drug that is also called “liquid ecstasy,” “liquid X” and “goop.” It comes as either an odorless liquid or a white powder and became known for being mixed with alcohol at dance clubs and raves, sometimes as a means to incapacitate someone to rape them.

GHB became popular for this function because it is easy to manufacture, making it readily available and cheap. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), GHB is a predatory (or date rape) drug because it increases passivity and suggestibility in the victim and they have no memory of what happened while on the drug.

Beyond this function, GHB is classified as a Schedule 1 central nervous system (CNS) depressant that has high abuse potential. It currently has no accepted medical use in this country. However, body builders may abuse the drug to help stimulate muscle growth because it elevates levels of human growth hormone. It is also known to cause weight loss. However, the most common illicit use of GHB remains enhancing people’s enjoyment of socialization at parties.

Effects of GHB Abuse

The effects of GHB depend greatly on the size of the dose. Small doses stimulate one’s mood and help to relieve anxiety and depression while also causing euphoria or drowsiness. However, it can also cause visual hallucinations and aggressive behavior.

In high doses, GHB can lead to:

  • Seizures.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Lowered body temperature.
  • Unconsciousness.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Coma.
  • Death.

The effects of GHB typically last 3 to 6 hours, depending on how large the dose is and how the person metabolizes the drug.

It also significantly increases the CNS depressants effects of alcohol and other depressant substances, which could lead to overdoses. The first effect that you might feel when GHB is combined with another substance is the effects of the other substance. For example, when mixed with alcohol, you’ll first experience the intoxication from the drink, then you’ll likely feel drowsy. Extremely high doses result in unconsciousness or death.

Long-Term Effects of GHB

When GHB is taken for long periods of time—whether recreationally or as prescribed by a doctor—it can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Headaches.
  • Amnesia.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Mouth sores and infections.
  • Cardiovascular collapse.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Extreme anxiety.
  • Seizures.

Anyone who regularly abuses the drug may be exhibiting signs of an addiction to GHB. If you spend a lot of time seeking out the drug, using it, thinking about using it, and you neglect other important areas of your life (e.g., family, friends, work, school), you may be addicted to GHB. If the negative consequences of using the drug do not deter you from using it, seek out professional help to you overcome your substance use disorder.

Can you Overdose on GHB?

It is possible to overdose on GHB alone since it can slow vital functions, such as heart rate and breathing, to dangerously low levels. In fact the DEA states that effects of an overdose is “death”. At first, however, the symptoms of overdose may include excessive drowsiness, as well as muscle spasms or general convulsions, disorientation, vomiting, slowed or stopped breathing, unconsciousness, and coma. When people first arrive at the emergency room, they may also have pale skin as a result of the reduced blood flow to their bodies.

Mixing GHB with other substances (particularly other depressant substances, as stated above) greatly increases the odds of an overdose by exacerbating the slowed effects on breathing and heartbeat. Further, there is no specific cure for a GHB overdose. If one doesn’t result in death, then medical personnel will monitor and treat the symptoms you present with.

Minor overdoses may not require immediate medical care, while severe cases will likely require an ambulance ride to the nearest emergency room. The most important thing in the case of a GHB overdose is for someone to recognize the signs and get you to medical help as soon as possible. Without an immediate response, an overdose can be fatal.

Warning Signs that You May Have Been Drugged with GHB

two adults who have been given GHB without their knowledge

There are several warning signs you can look for if you think you were given GHB without your knowledge. It may be difficult to predict exactly how the drug will react in your body, but some of the factors that influence how the drug will affect you include weight, gender, metabolism, and any other substances in your body.

Warning signs to look for include:

  • Feeling more intoxicated that usual.
  • Waking up feeling hungover or experiencing memory lapses.
  • Remembering drinking but being unable to recall anything that happened after you took the drink.
  • Feeling that you have had sex but being unable to remember any of the incident.

Sources

  1. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Gamma-Hydroxybutyric Acid.
  2. Stomberg, M.W., Knudsen, K., Stomberg, H., & Skarsater, I. (2014). Symptoms and Signs in Interpreting Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) Intoxication—An Explorative Study. Scandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine, 22(27).
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
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