Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid is also known as GHB, G and liquid ecstasy. The effects of GHB come on quickly.
Within 15 to 30 minutes of drinking GHB, a person begins feeling the euphoric and sedating effects of the drug.
Depending on the dose, GHB’s effects last for about three to six hours, and the drug quickly exits the body. On average, it remains in a person’s system less than 12 hours.
After someone drinks GHB, the drug is rapidly absorbed into the blood through the gastrointestinal tract. GHB reaches its peak concentration in the bloodstream within 20 to 40 minutes.
After that, the drug is broken down by the liver in much the same way as alcohol. The liver converts GHB into several other chemicals, which are broken down further and eventually leave the body as carbon dioxide and water.
People naturally produce low levels of GHB in their body, which can sometimes be detected in urine — but natural GHB levels are considerably lower in most people than they are in people who use the drug recreationally or have a GHB addiction.
GHB has a half-life of 30 to 50 minutes, meaning that half of the dose taken will be eliminated in less than an hour.
At that rate, most of the drug is broken down and eliminated within a few hours.
Within 2 1/2 to four hours, GHB is barely detectable in blood. Urine screens for GHB typically can’t detect the drug past a 12-hour window.
According to a 2015 article in the journal Current Neuropharmacology, only a tiny amount of GHB — approximately 5 percent or less of the amount taken — ends up in urine. All traces of the drug typically vanish in three to 10 hours.
That’s why it’s vital for people who think they might have been drugged with GHB to visit a hospital emergency department immediately for a urine test, before potential evidence vanishes.
Traces of GHB remain in hair substantially longer. In a 2003 article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, French toxicologists at the Institut de Médecine Légale in Strasbourg reported that they were able to identify GHB in hair collected from a rape victim a month after the drug was allegedly administered.
Alcohol interferes with the body’s metabolism of GHB. As a result, mixing alcohol and GHB can raise levels of GHB in the blood, causing the drug to remain in a person’s system slightly longer.
Combining GHB and alcohol can cause stomach upset, low blood pressure and decreased levels of oxygen in the blood. It also raises the risk of death from respiratory arrest because both alcohol and GHB may slow or suppress breathing.
Studies have shown that taking GHB on a full stomach delays the body’s absorption of the drug and causes it to linger longer in the body.
Better GHB detection methods are on the horizon.
A 2017 study published in Analytical Chemistry found that glycolate, a byproduct of GHB, might serve as a good biomarker for the drug.
When the researchers gave volunteers small doses of GHB, they could only detect the drug in urine for about two hours using traditional testing methods. But they were able to detect levels of glycolate for up to 20 hours after the drug was taken.
Those findings could serve as a basis for new testing methods with longer detection windows.
Other European scientists have developed a saliva-based test that could potentially be used to test for GHB poisoning.
In a 2016 press release, Paul Thomas, professor of analytical science at Loughborough University in England and co-author of a study published in the Journal of Breath Research, said that the new testing technique will provide a quick and simple way for health care providers to screen for GHB intoxication.
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