Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, is a chemical compound found naturally in the human brain, as well as in some meats, wines, and beers. It’s been used medicinally as an anesthetic, to treat insomnia, narcolepsy, and other sleep disorders. When abused as a narcotic, GHB can produce amnesiac or “blackout” effects, especially at higher doses, making it dangerously powerful as a date rape drug. GHB is a Schedule I narcotic in the United States, meaning it has a high potential for abuse.
GHB is primarily distributed as a clear liquid and may be sold by the “capful” or per “swig” at clubs and raves. The drug can also be made into a white powder or “salt.” It’s colorless, odorless, dissolves quickly in liquid, and tastes only slightly salty.
Taken at recreational doses, GHB can induce a surprisingly wide range of mental and physical states. Its overall effect is one of relaxation, similar to alcohol, along with feelings of euphoria and social confidence, acting as a stimulant and aphrodisiac. These effects appear within 10-15 minutes after ingestion and typically last 3-6 hours. This makes GHB a popular drug at clubs and raves.
The positive feelings of GHB use are also accompanied by a sedative effect. At high enough doses for a person’s body mass, this sedation can be strong enough to cause someone to be unable to move, completely lose their memory, and fall unconscious. These effects make it a prominent date rape drug, since it reduces inhibitions, increases libido, and erases memories.
GHB has also been shown to increase the body’s production of human growth hormone. For this reason, bodybuilders and aspiring athletes sometimes take the drug in an attempt to quickly gain muscle, not realizing the risks they engender by self-prescribing a complex, unpredictable compound.
In all of these cases, no matter one’s purpose for taking it, GHB is notoriously difficult to measure into doses, especially for someone who’s never taken it before. This gives the drug a small window of comfortable use before its quantity becomes toxic or causes overdose. It’s not uncommon for a person to use GHB to spike someone’s drink, only to administer too much of the drug, causing their intended victim to overdose and die.
Overdose is a highly possible outcome for any recreational user of GHB. At doses above 3,500mg, GHB causes rapid unconsciousness. At doses over 7,000mg, a user’s respiratory system and heart begin to slow to life-threatening levels and they may experience heart attacks, convulsions, and vomiting, all while unconscious.
It is not uncommon for a person who has overdosed on GHB to think that everything is fine, display a positive mood, and want to carry on like nothing’s wrong. Don’t be fooled. A GHB overdose is a medical emergency that can become fatal incredibly quickly without professional medical help.
GHB overdose kills its users by making their hearts stop, vomit and choke to death, or asphyxiate. GHB also reduces the rate at which a user’s body can eliminate alcohol, making it much more dangerous in a club or party scenario in which a person might ingest both substances.
There is currently no antidote for GHB toxicity or overdose.
It can be difficult to spot GHB use in a person. They may act like they’ve taken ecstasy, MDMA, or become drunk. Additionally, GHB affects each person differently. No one user will exhibit all of the following signs. Some of the symptoms of GHB use and toxicity include:
These symptoms typically last up to three weeks, with lingering aftereffects up to another few weeks. In more severe cases, GHB withdrawal can begin to mimic the withdrawal of alcohol or benzodiazepines, either of which can become deadly without professional medical help.
As of yet, no forms of treatment have proven effective in helping users break free of addiction to GHB, meaning that withdrawal and recovery can be especially difficult, prolonged processes for people struggling to stop using it. GHB withdrawal is not a widely-researched or discussed phenomenon. Some medical professionals and even emergency room doctors may not be familiar with it.
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