What Is GHB?
GHB is an illegally produced drug that can cause a euphoric high in small doses but is extremely toxic in higher doses. It gained a reputation for being used to facilitate sexual assault, just like other drugs such as Rohypnol. It is tasteless and odorless, and small doses can cause unconsciousness and memory loss.
It metabolizes GABA, the body’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter that exists in the central nervous system. The main function of inhibitory neurotransmitters is to keep the central nervous system regulated by slowing down other neurons in the brain and spinal cord. By boosting the amount of GABA activity, brain activity slows down, resulting in a calming effect on the user.
GHB is a naturally occurring metabolite produced in our brains. But it exists in much lower concentrations in the brain than one would take when abusing it or dosing someone else’s drink.
GHB has a long history. It was first synthesized in France in 1960, and doctors initially used it as an anesthetic. However, its use resulted in many serious side effects, so it was discontinued. In the 1980s, it gained popularity as an over-the-counter vitamin supplement that worked as a sleep aid or sexual performance enhancer. It was also advertised as a supplement to help build muscle and reduce fat. However, the year it was released, more than 100 people reported cases of poisoning from taking the drug. After that, the Food Drug Administration banned sales and declared the drug unsafe and illegal.
In 2000, the Drug Enforcement Agency banned GHB.
The brand-name prescription drug Xyrem is the sodium salt of gamma-hydroxybutyrate—essentially the same thing as GHB. The FDA approved it in 2002 for the treatment of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes people to fall asleep while performing tasks during the day. Xyrem is highly regulated and is listed as a Schedule III controlled substance. To access it, patients must be enrolled in a restricted program.
It’s also an approved treatment for alcoholism in Italy. It functions much like Buprenorphine/Naltrexone in heroin addicts, helping to block the craving for the substance.
Many people still use GHB illegally for bodybuilding purposes, even though the drug doesn’t show any proof of helping with building muscle or losing fat. It became popular among younger crowds as a “club drug” in the 1990s because of its euphoric and sedative effects. However, it has also stirred up a lot of controversy as being a “date rape drug,” similar to Rohypnol. Many people have reported it being slipped into their drinks to facilitate sexual assault.
The drug is very popular recreationally and used at nightclubs, sex parties, and sex clubs where users want to stay up all night. It also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac. People often mix it with alcoholic beverages, which can increase the dangers of taking it.
Nicknames for GHB include:
- The date rape drug
- Liquid ecstasy
- Liquid X
Types of GHB Abuse
GHB is most often found as an odorless, tasteless, clear liquid. This has made it easy for people to drop it into an unsuspecting victim’s drink to facilitate sexual assault. People intending to target victims commonly hide it in water bottles, eye and nasal sprays, and other small containers. In 2000, President Clinton signed a measure into law making GHB illegal except for specialized medical treatments, but people are still finding ways to access the drug.
Alcohol amplifies its effects and can make a victim fall unconscious within minutes. It can produce unconsciousness for many hours at a time and complete memory loss when given to unknowing individuals. Victims cannot ward off sexual assault once becoming incapacitated because of the sedative effects of the drug.
GHB is also taken deliberately as a rave or club drug. Many people think of it as a safer alternative to ecstasy or MDMA. It creates a euphoric and sociable high, and many people report increased sex drive, tranquility, and other desirable effects. Users report that GHB gives them the calming, sociable effects of alcohol without slurred speech, loss of coordination, or a hangover. Some bodybuilders continue to abuse the drug as a fat-burning enhancement and to boost energy levels.
People who use GHB regularly can develop a tolerance fairly quickly. This means they need to take more and more GHB to get the same effect. The amount of time the drug stays in a person’s system depends on many factors, such as a person’s sex, weight, metabolism, activity levels, how much of the drug they ingested, and what the drug contains.
Short-Term Effects of Taking GHB
There is no way to take GHB safely. Regardless of the dosage, it always carries some risk. GHB also affects everyone differently based on how much a person takes and the strength of the specific batch they purchased. A person’s size, weight, health, and tolerance will also affect their symptoms.
There is no strict recipe for GHB, and people often purchase it without knowing the source. Most of the GHB bought on the internet or the street is made illegally in labs. Batches likely contain contaminants that make them even more toxic. Ingredients used to make GHB include some kind of drain cleaner mixed with industrial solvents used to strip floors. It is highly toxic and highly lethal.
It is very easy to take too much and overdose. It is incredibly hard to judge the amount needed to cause a pleasant high and the amount that will cause an overdose.
Usually, a dose of GHB lasts around three to four hours. Within the first 30 minutes, a person might experience:
- Feelings of euphoria
- Lowered inhibitions
At higher doses, it can have many more adverse effects, including:
- Blurry vision
- Tunnel Vision
- Memory loss
- Slow heart rate
- Calm feelings
- Heightened sensuality
- Digestive problems
- Loss of consciousness
Depending on the dose, people may experience some euphoric effects or rather severe side effects, including death. Combining GHB with other drugs and alcohol can lead to nausea, breathing difficulties, and overdose. Many people are admitted to the hospital for using GHB, with symptoms such as bradycardia and hypothermia. Not only that, but being high on GHB also increases the risk of injury due to confusion, dizziness, or loss of consciousness.
GHB use causes large spikes in the amounts of serotonin and dopamine released into the central nervous system. These cause pleasurable effects of euphoria and sociability at first. But after the initial high, these levels drop drastically, causing a serious crash after a person stops using the drug. This can cause severe depression, apathy, hopelessness, despair, etc.
Despite people’s claims that GHB is safer than other drugs or diet pills, it is actually incredibly dangerous to use. Even tiny amounts of GHB can be toxic. Using the drug regularly is more likely to result in severe symptoms, like hallucinations, violent outbursts, and seizures. If you or anyone you know has any of the following symptoms, seek emergency medical help:
- A person cannot be woken
- Sweating profusely
- Involuntary muscle contractions
- Irregular heartbeat
- Respiratory problems
- Memory loss
The risk of overdose is much higher when combining GHB with other drugs, like alcohol, ecstasy, or amphetamines. It is particularly dangerous to take GHB with other substances that suppress the central nervous system, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines.
Long-Term Effects of GHB
Regularly abusing GHB can lead to physical dependence. People develop a tolerance to GHB very quickly, so many people continue taking higher and higher doses and then need more just to stave off the withdrawal. This easily leads to dependency. Signs of addiction include using more of the drug than intended and continuing to use it even when negative consequences occur. Other long-term risks include:
- Issues with short-term and long-term memory
- Cognitive impairment
- Heart disease
- Respiratory issues
Why Is GHB So Dangerous?
GHB is dangerous for many reasons.
The substance is illegal, so its strength and purity are not regulated. When a person purchases GHB, there is no way to be sure of what it contains. For this reason, it’s easy to take too much. This can cause death or any of the other consequences listed above.
When GHB is mixed with other substances, the effects are intensified and it increases the chance of overdose. Taken alone or with other substances, it often causes users to lapse into a deep sleep or lose consciousness suddenly. People run the risk of throwing up in their sleep, which can cause death. In a deep, GHB-induced sleep, people often have trouble breathing as well. And they may be in situations or locations where it is very dangerous to lose consciousness, such as in public or driving a car.
GHB also causes people to completely lose any memory of what happened while they were high on the drug, which is hazardous for many reasons.
GHB is highly addictive and can be dangerous to stop using cold turkey. If a person is physically dependent on GHB and stops taking it, they might experience withdrawal symptoms while the body tries to readjust to functioning without it. Withdrawal from this substance can be extreme and incapacitating. In fact, withdrawing from GHB can even be life-threatening.
Sudden withdrawal from high doses is likely to result in severe symptoms and should be medically assisted. Windward Way Recovery can help arrange a medically supervised detox for you or your loved one to quit GHB.
Withdrawal symptoms start around 12 hours after a person takes the last dose of GHB and they can last for up to two weeks. Some of them can include anxiety, seizures, insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations, and high blood pressure. Withdrawal symptoms fall into classifications of mild, moderate, or severe.
Other symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps
- Mood swings
- Psychotic behaviors
Because withdrawal symptoms can be so severe, patients sometimes try to detox at home by self-medicating with alcohol or benzodiazepines. Using additional substances in an unsupervised setting can worsen withdrawal symptoms and potentially cause respiratory depression, coma, and death. If you are considering stopping GHB abuse, please contact us for professional help.
People who abuse GHB regularly over time run the risk of developing a substance use disorder. They might have problems controlling their use of the drug, including difficulty reducing the amount of the drug taken, using it even after facing negative consequences, abandoning important activities and hobbies to use the drug, and spending an inordinate amount of time seeking out and using the drug. Other issues might be taking the drug in dangerous situations and mixing it with other drugs.
Other signs of addiction might include cravings to use, the need to use even though it is causing problems at work, home, or school, and isolating from friends and family to use. A person might have a physical dependency and/or addiction if they have a tolerance to GHB, experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using, and/or keep using GHB to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment for GHB Abuse
GHB is such a dangerous, toxic substance, even when a person is taking it deliberately. And many people are exposed to it without consent. Taking the drug repeatedly can easily lead to dependence and addiction. It remains popular on the street and is easy to find, causing many younger people to become interested in taking it simply because it’s available at nightclubs and other public places.
No matter how a person develops an addiction, the important thing is to get help before it gets worse. Usually, addressing a serious substance use disorder calls for professional help. At Windward Way Recovery, we can help you set up a medically supervised detox and also help develop a personalized treatment and recovery plan.
The approach to treating substance use disorders starts with an initial assessment. This helps us determine your needs, strengths, and weaknesses so that we can offer the very best treatment. We will go over a full physical assessment, as well as emotional and psychological reviews. We’ll also do a cognitive evaluation and assess your social situation.
The first step after the assessment is to manage withdrawal symptoms. Because GHB withdrawal can be particularly painful and dangerous, we will work with you to set up a medically supervised detox at our treatment center. This might include medication to ease the intensity of some symptoms as your system adjusts. Various medications are available to address different needs, such as high blood pressure, insomnia, and discomfort.
Substance use disorder also requires some forms of behavioral therapy based on your individual needs. Different types of therapy are helpful to address a person’s reason for using substances, improvement of a person’s home/family/marriage life after addiction, and more. Therapy can also help you develop new coping mechanisms to deal with cravings and life stressors. We will also educate you on relapse prevention tactics to give you the best chances of remaining sober.
We want to make sure that our clients have the help of family, friends, and peers during their recovery. We recommend social support groups, such as 12-step programs. Other approaches, like group therapy, social hobbies and activities, sports, etc. help a person maintain social support during recovery.
Get Help at Windward Way Recovery
Using drugs like GHB can negatively affect your health, family, relationships, work, school, and financial well-being.
If you or someone you love is abusing GHB, Windward Way Recovery can help. We provide a safe, medically supervised detox as well as inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment. Our recovery plans include education on getting sober, relapse prevention, and coping mechanisms. We also help arrange therapy, counseling, and access to support groups.
Don’t hesitate to contact us for help — you don’t have to struggle alone.