Gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, is a potent central nervous system depressant that has dramatic effects on the mind and body. Most people take GHB recreationally for the euphoric and calming effects it produces at low doses.
But larger doses of the drug can cause loss of consciousness and a type of short-term memory loss known as anterograde amnesia. These effects have led sexual predators to use GHB as a date-rape drug.
It’s easy to overdose on GHB because it’s impossible for people to know how strong the drug is. When combined with alcohol or other depressants, the drug can be lethal.
People who frequently use GHB can also become physically dependent on the drug. People with a GHB dependence will experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop taking it.
A typical recreational dose of GHB, either a teaspoon of liquid or half a teaspoon of powder, produces effects similar to an alcohol buzz.
After a sip or swig of GHB, people may feel energetic, mildly euphoric, warm and sociable. They may be more talkative than usual. Clubgoers report that GHB gives them the stamina to participate in all-night dance parties.
Larger doses of GHB can produce a number of unpleasant and dangerous side effects similar to those of alcohol intoxication.
Symptoms of GHB intoxication include:
People who use the drug regularly have reported visual and auditory hallucinations and involuntary movements of their arms and legs, according to a 2007 study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. A light GHB user said his body felt heavy after taking the drug, and he was unable to move.
GHB’s effects come on rapidly, usually within 15 to 30 minutes of swallowing the drug, and they last for up to six hours. The drug is metabolized quickly. Traces of GHB usually vanish from a person’s system within about 12 hours of ingestion.
GHB poisoning is common, and a person can die from taking too much of the drug. Adding to the danger is the fact that the difference between an intoxicating dose and a potentially fatal dose of GHB is small.
Signs and symptoms of a GHB overdose include:
Mixing GHB with alcohol or other drugs increases the risk of a GHB overdose. According to a 1998 study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, 67 percent of the 88 GHB overdose patients included in the study had also consumed other drugs. The most common drugs included alcohol and amphetamines.
People who use GHB can also die from choking on their own vomit, accidental suffocation and accidents that occur when they abruptly lose consciousness.
GHB is addictive, and repeated use of the drug can easily lead to a physical dependence.
People who use GHB every few hours around the clock are especially likely to experience excruciating withdrawal symptoms when they cease using the drug.
Typical GHB withdrawal symptoms include:
Like alcohol withdrawal, GHB withdrawal is potentially life-threatening. People who can’t quit GHB on their own should consult a GHB treatment professional who can help them detox safely from the drug.
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