GHB is a depressant, which means that it decreases activity in the central nervous system. GHB is an abbreviation of the full chemical name of the drug: gamma-hydroxybutyrate.
It is a fatty acid naturally produced in the human central nervous system and in nature, but in much smaller amounts than in the drug called GHB. It is closely related chemically to, and necessary for, the production of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is responsible for regulating brain activity, sleep and other functions.
The effects of gamma-hydroxybutyrate are therefore similar in nature to benzodiazepines and other depressants that interact with the body’s natural GABA receptors to reduce central nervous system activity.
As a drug, GHB became known in France in the 1960s after being synthesized by a doctor named Henri Laborit, who was conducting research on the neurotransmitter GABA. He discovered that, unlike GABA, GHB was transported from the blood to the brain and then converted into GABA by natural chemical processes.
The drug has a number of legitimate uses, including its use at one time as an anesthetic in hospitals. GHB has also been used to treat alcoholism and drug addiction, as well as narcolepsy (sleep disorder).
However, it is best known for its illegal use as a recreational “club drug” and as a “date rape drug” used to incapacitate and drug unwilling victims.
At high doses, the main effects of GHB are euphoria, sedation and decreased social inhibitions (similar to alcohol). Particularly high doses can lead to unconsciousness, as is the case in rape cases.
GHB is usually sold on the street as a small vial of clear, odorless liquid and consumed orally, sometimes in a drink. Used as a date-rape drug, it is added to the victim’s drink where, despite its slight salty taste, it often goes unnoticed.
GHB has been widely used in European, American and Australasian nightclubs since the 1990s, often in combination with other drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine. It can be extremely dangerous when mixed with alcohol and other central nervous system depressants.
It is also used by bodybuilders as a substitute for anabolic steroids, although there is no evidence to support this.
Because of its success, it is now illegal to possess this drug without a prescription in many countries. In the UK, it is considered a class C drug.
GHB is an abbreviation of the drug’s full chemical name: gamma-hydroxybutyrate.
In medical circles, it is also called by its generic term, sodium oxybate. The most common brand name for the legitimate pharmaceutical version of GHB, used for narcolepsy, is Xyrem.
On the street, this drug is known by a variety of slang names, including GH, juice, liquid X and liquid ecstasy.
GBL (gamma-butyrolactone) is an associated substance, which is metabolized into GHB inside the body, once it has entered the bloodstream after ingestion. The effects of this drug are therefore almost identical. GBL is used for legitimate industrial and commercial purposes and is used in some nail polish removers, paint strippers and cleaning products.
There is another similar precursor chemical, which is metabolized into GHB after ingestion: 1,4-butanediol. This chemical is also used in several solvents and industrial manufacturing processes.
When taken orally, GHB produces a number of physiological and psychological effects. Recreational users report euphoria, loquacity, relaxation, increased libido, disinhibition and drowsiness.
Overdose is one of the specific risks of GHB, since the line between active and toxic dose is very thin. GHB bought on the street is usually more or less pure, which makes the dosage even more difficult to determine.
Overdose can be fatal, as it reduces central nervous system function. This can lead to respiratory failure, coma and seizures. Symptoms that may indicate an overdose include blurred vision, loss of balance and dizziness, profuse sweating, difficulty breathing, tremors and confusion.
The risk of overdose and respiratory failure is greatly increased when GHB is taken with alcohol or other depressants.
In addition, an individual under the influence of GHB is more likely to have an accident or be abused by others.
GHB can also be physically and psychologically addictive for some individuals. Regular use can lead to tolerance, requiring the individual to take larger doses to achieve the desired recreational effects. The risk of overdose is also increased by the questionable purity of the street drug, the fine line between “safe” and dangerous use, and the fact that users often associate GHB with other drugs.
Regular users may experience withdrawal effects when not using the drug, including irritability, paranoia, nausea, anxiety, mental confusion and even hallucinations.
The legitimate pharmaceutical version for the treatment of narcolepsy and other conditions, Xyrem (sodium oxybate), is manufactured by Jazz Pharmaceuticals in the USA. Its use and distribution are strictly controlled and it is only available by prescription in the United States and other countries.
Some of this inventory may be diverted to the black market through theft, counterfeiting and detour. However, this pharmaceutical product is not the most common source of GHB on the street.
Most recreational drugs are manufactured illegally in clandestine laboratories. In some cases, it is produced by criminal organizations in well-equipped but illegal and unregulated laboratories. However, because its precursor chemicals are relatively easy to synthesize and obtain, GHB is also manufactured by independent individuals and small-scale producers in makeshift home laboratories.
It is produced synthetically through a series of chemical equations and its synthesis can be done by anyone with good knowledge and skills in chemistry. The same end product can go several ways, which explains the differences in purity and potency of the street drug.
Illegally produced GHB, usually in the form of a clear, odourless liquid or powder, is usually packaged in small vials and sold on the street, in nightclubs or elsewhere.
GBL, which is converted to GHB inside the body, is also available to users and traffickers. In general, this chemical is only available for industrial purposes and its possession for any other use has recently been criminalized in many countries. In the UK, for example, it has been considered a Class C drug for possession or sale since late 2009.
FACTS AND STATISTICS
GHB is the abbreviation of the chemical name gamma-hydroxybutyrate.
It is a depressant, a drug that suppresses activity in the central nervous system.
GHB has several legitimate medical uses, primarily the treatment of narcolepsy. It is available by prescription in some countries, including the United States, under the brand name Xyrem.
Possession of gamma-hydroxybutyrate without a valid prescription has been illegal in many countries for the past decade, as has its production, sale or distribution. This follows its use for recreational purposes and as a date-rape drug.
GHB was freely available in the United States until its use was banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1990. Before that, it was even sold in some stores as a supplement for bodybuilders.
It became illegal in the United States in 2000 and was classified as a Schedule I drug. The pharmaceutical version of GHB (Xyrem) is a Schedule III drug.
In 2001, GHB was included in ScheduleIV of the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
GHB was classified as a Class C drug by the British authorities in 2003. GBL, which can be metabolized into GHB, was classified as a Class C drug in 2009.
Overdoses of GHB can lead to breathing problems, coma and death.
When mixed with alcohol, it can be extremely dangerous, even fatal.
Regular use of this drug can create a chemical and psychological dependency.
In many countries, it is illegal to drive under the influence of GHB.
The effects of GHB can appear after 10 minutes, but it often takes up to an hour to be felt.
The effects usually last up to seven hours.
According to a study of nightclub users, the average age of GHB users is 22, which is relatively high compared to other drugs.
In 1999 (before the criminalization of the drug), 32% of calls to poison control centers in Boston (USA) were for GHB.
GHB is very difficult to detect by screening tests, as significant levels of the substance disappear from urine excretions after 12 hours and from blood after 8 hours. This often complicates police investigations of rapes that may involve GHB.
In 2007, a report on the UK revealed that at that time, 60% of the substances seized that were assumed to be GHB were in fact GBL, its precursor, which was perfectly legal at the time. GBL became illegal two years later.
A 2003 report by US authorities revealed that GHB was widely available in much of the country and that only 16% of state and local law enforcement agencies believed that the drug was not being sold on their streets.
In the UK, the maximum penalty for possession of GHB is two years plus an unlimited fine.
In the UK, distribution of GHB, even to friends, carries a 14-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine.
SIGNS OF ADDICTION
GHB can be both physically and psychologically addictive. In a prescription setting, this dependence is unlikely unless GHB is misused and the individual has a history of addiction and substance abuse. Dependence is more common among those who use the drug recreationally, since dosages are not controlled or monitored.
Those affected may experience a number of common symptoms. Under the immediate influence of the drug, addicts may appear drunk (as with alcohol), but also unusually happy, even euphoric, very talkative and relaxed. In other cases, they may have difficulty speaking coherently and appear to have cognitive difficulties.
At high doses, people may show signs of severe sedation and fall asleep to the point where they cannot be awakened for some time. In this case, it is important to call for help and not wait until sleep is “restored” as this may be an overdose requiring medical treatment.
The effects of GHB are offset by a number of withdrawal symptoms. Heavy users who have not taken their dose for some time may suffer from these symptoms at different levels. They may show signs of insomnia, high anxiety, sweat profusely, and appear very upset and irritated. Addicts often act in unusual ways and care about little else except their addiction.
GHB use can also be noticed by the presence of small vials of clear, odourless liquid or suspicious powders. Finally, pills or other substances can be found being consumed at the same time.
GHB can be very addictive on its own, but it can also be used in conjunction with other “club drugs” such as MDMA.
This drug can be both physically and psychologically addictive, so treatment will need to address both aspects of the problem, separately and together.
As far as physical dependence is concerned, it can be difficult to stop using GHB, even with willpower. This is due to the many effects that can be experienced as a result of the body’s dependence on the substance. The withdrawal effects can vary in intensity depending on the individual and the extent and duration of their addiction. They can include intense anxiety, muscle pain and other unpleasant sensations, restlessness and sleep disturbances.
These physical effects accentuate the desire to use, as the individual will want to put an end to the negative and unpleasant sensations.
Psychologically, the individual may have become attached to the euphoria and other positive effects of the drug and feel “lost” without them. Often GHB is part of a larger lifestyle and addiction and the psychological aspect is almost impossible to treat without proper support and help.
In the case of such a strong addiction, the best solution may be to get the person concerned into a detoxification center. In this environment, the patient will be closely monitored and treated with appropriate medication to relieve withdrawal symptoms.
Because of the tolerance that can develop in regular GHB users, they may be taking very large doses when they enter a detoxification center. For this reason, it is rarely recommended to opt for a sudden and immediate stop of the drug. Instead, a gradual reduction over a maximum of two weeks (to be adapted according to the individual) is preferred. This method limits the inconvenience of the initial detoxification period and ensures that the treatment is successful.
The detoxification process to rid the body of addictive chemicals is accompanied by other methods that address the psychological addiction. Counseling sessions with an experienced addiction therapist can be very helpful in helping the individual understand the nature and underlying reasons for their drug addiction.
Other therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help the patient resist past triggers of their addiction and adopt healthy behaviors to avoid relapse.
In addition, because GHB is often combined with other club drugs such as ecstasy or used to moderate the “come down” of drugs such as cocaine, it may be necessary to treat these other addictions. In this case, the patient and the professional will decide together on a comprehensive treatment program that addresses every aspect of the addiction