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The chemical GHB, produced naturally by humans, was once sold as a supplement in stores. Now, as a dangerous party drug, GHB is on the radar of doctors and substance-abuse professionals, who are hoping to prevent future overdoses.

  • Drug Name GHB
  • Addiction Liability High
  • Scientific Name Gamma-hydroxybutyrate
  • Street Names Liquid Ecstasy, Firewater, Cherry Meth, Gib, Scoop, Poor Man's Heroin
  • How It's Used Swallowed
  • Side Effects Decreased Inhibitions, Disorientation, Impaired Memory, Loss of Coordination, Decreased Heart Rate, Loss of Consciousness
  • Psychological Dependence Moderate
  • Physical Dependence Moderate

GHB: Recreational Use and its Role in Sexual Assault

The odorless, water-resembling drug GHB appears all too often in stories of date rape. Since the 1960s, the depressant qualities of GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) have been exploited and, especially when combined with alcohol, can send users into a potentially fatal daze.

GHB was FDA-approved for individuals with cataplexy — a condition causing sudden loss of muscle tone — in 2002.

Bottle of GHB

4 Grams
of GHB can cause death. That’s less than the weight of 2 US pennies.

2 pennies

More recently, sensation-seekers consume the drug to enhance a night of fun at a club or party. The effects are not unlike that of MDMA or ecstasy, which explains the drug’s nickname: “liquid ecstasy.”

It instantly made me feel completely euphoric, increased my sex drive; I just felt so at peace.

anonymous female GHB user

Fast-forward, though, and the high of the drug can be replaced by a debilitating addiction.

“I was urinating myself, passed out in the shower,” says the same woman, of her eventual addiction to GHB. “I would wake up and not remember anything that happened. I’ve been through hell and back.”

Like many of the more commonly known addictive drugs, GHB can quickly go from part-time habit to full-time nightmare. Users will take the substance as a party-enhancer, until one day it creates a withdrawal both physically and mentally that keeps you crawling back for more.

I couldn’t go more than four to five hours without GHB before my body would go straight into the most physically horrendous and painful withdrawals.

Sarah, a recovered addict

GHB causes addiction and overdose at a disastrous rate. Between 1995 and 2005, GHB led to 226 deaths, according to reports, with many more linked to the drug in some way. It’s yet another party drug that has ended the party prematurely for a number of ill-fated people.

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Between 1995 and 2005, GHB led to 226 deaths, according to reports, with many more linked to the drug in some way.

Identifying a GHB Addiction

GHB addicts are often dependent on other substances as well — alcohol, meth, and pain pills among them. Being aware of someone’s partying habits can help you identify a possible addiction to GHB. If you know someone attending raves or parties regularly, GHB or other drugs may be playing a major role in their lives.

Powder forms of GHB exist in addition to the liquid form; they both have a similar effect. The drug typically comes in eyedroppers, vitamin bottles, or water bottles, and the concentration can vary. As a result, users do not always know the potency of each dose, which increases the risk of overdose.

Addictions tend to develop rapidly and unexpectedly. Even people who are prescribed the drug may become addicted.

Physical Impairment and Other Side Effects of GHB

Many GHB-related overdoses and deaths occur each year. Coma and seizures are also often reported in situations related to the substance. When combined with alcohol, the risks associated with GHB increase dramatically — including breathing difficulties, nausea, overdose and death.

Other side effects of GHB include:

Many emergency rooms lack GHB detection tests, and doctors are often unfamiliar with the drug, leaving cases of abuse undetected. This can make seemingly minor side effects evolve into serious concerns before GHB can be identified as the causation.

Treatment for Overdose and GHB Addiction

People who misuse GHB often struggle with a myriad of other problems. Treatment may include residential services, where health care professionals can monitor recovery from GHB addiction.

Treatment for GHB addiction also includes behavioral therapies. Therapists work with the individuals to develop healthy coping mechanisms to remain drug-free. Through therapy, they will acquire important life skills and learn how to handle stressful situations and avoid triggers to reduce the likelihood of a relapse. Many people benefit from counseling about the consequences of GHB use.

First-Aid for GHB Intoxication

Medical professionals offer supportive treatment for a GHB overdose. Because of the rapid gastrointestinal absorption of GHB, people can quickly recover from ingesting the drug. They typically regain consciousness within two to six hours of consuming it.

Your regional poison control center can provide valuable resources about GHB intoxication. The patient may require a consultation with a medical specialist because the drug can cause burns to the throat or gastrointestinal tract.

Through a series of organized steps, first responders can collect information and provide first aid while a person experiencing GHB intoxication waits for medical services.

These steps include:

Combining GHB and opioid use is a common practice. When providing naloxone to patients under the influence of these drugs, emergency personnel need to account for opioid withdrawal effects, such as vomiting. In unconscious patients, vomit can obstruct the airway, resulting in death.

Supportive care for GHB ingestion includes aspiration precautions and pulse oximetry. Medical professionals may perform a stomach pump and administer activated charcoal if they suspect coingestion of GHB and other drugs.

Without proper evidence of GHB ingestion, doctors have to assess the patient’s mental state to rule out any other causes of the impairment.

If the patient is undergoing severe respiratory depression, hypoxia or a combination toxic exposure, health care providers should perform rapid sequence intubation. If doctors have a reliable ingestion history, a conservative approach to intubation is recommended.

In cases involving prolonged coma or overdose, doctors may use a reversal agent on patients. Drugs that may counteract GHB include neostigmine, flumazenil, naloxone and other anti-epileptics.

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