What Is GHB?: Effects and Risks – GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate, C4H803) is commonly recognized in popular cultures as a “date rape” drug. It is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant most often abused by teenagers and young adults at clubs, concerts, parties, and raves. To incapacitate a potential victim, GHB is sometimes placed in the alcoholic beverage of a drinker who is completely unaware of its presence.
Of note, Xyrem (sodium salt of gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a brand name prescription medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of narcolepsy, a condition in which a person can fall asleep unpredictably in inappropriate situations. It is a tightly controlled drug in the U.S. and mandates patient enrollment in a restricted access program.
Effects of GHB
The chemical gamma-hydroxybutyrate is produced by the body naturally when food is metabolized in the stomach. When abused in drug form, euphoria, increased sexual desire, and relaxation are all reported as positive effects of GHB use. Less desirable effects may include sweating, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, amnesia, hallucinations, and coma.
Many people report that in small doses, GHB induces effects comparable to those of stimulants. But as a CNS depressant, and in high enough doses, it causes a state of relaxation and drowsiness that can also lead to impaired coordination, slurred speech, and unconsciousness. Such effects are amplified when GHB is combined with alcohol and can onset within minutes. For this reason, GHB, in addition to Rohypnol, is popularly used as a date rape drug.
There has been a great deal of debate regarding the safety of recreational GHB use. Many users report that when used in small doses, and not in conjunction with other drugs, it is relatively safe and non-addictive. Nonetheless, recent findings from new research have revealed that it is indeed addictive, and sudden discontinuation can induce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Dangers and Risks of GHB
Anecdotal evidence from users claims that GHB is relatively safe when used on its own. However, there has been a number of reported cases of users suffering an overdose when the drug is repeatedly consumed in high doses.
Symptoms of an overdose may include the following:
- Shallow breathing
How GHB Is Used as a Date Rape Drug
GHB is found as an odorless, colorless substance that can be combined with alcohol and slipped to unsuspecting victims with the intent to engage in a sexual assault. Victims can become quickly incapacitated due to its potent sedative effects and are therefore unable to fight against a would-be attacker. GHB may induce amnesia, and thus cause the victim to remember little to nothing of the experience.
It can be obtained on the streets or the Dark Web in liquid form or as a white powdery substance for illicit use. Most of the GHB found on both streets and the Internet is produced illegally in labs and is thus unlikely to be a product of prescription drug diversion.
Despite the claims of many users, research has shown that GHB does have some potential for dependence and addiction. When someone starts using it for non-medical purposes, eventually they can develop a tolerance and require increasingly higher doses to feel the same intensity of effects. Considering how powerful this depressant is, however, even one extra dose of it can lead to a potentially life-threatening overdose.
Because GHB is broken down in the system rapidly, if someone who is dependent skips even one dose, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can manifest within just a few hours. Sweating, anxiety, panic attacks, elevated heart rate, and high blood pressure are the first indicators that a person is suffering from withdrawal. These initial symptoms will wane after 2-3 days.
If GHB is abused in very high doses for an extended period, another stage of withdrawal characterized by an altered mental state, hallucinations, and sleep disturbances can occur. This condition is similar to delirium tremens—a life-threatening condition associated with chronic alcohol use that includes seizures, tremors, and psychosis. As these symptoms subside, cravings, mood changes, fatigue, and anxiety may persist for a few days longer.
Treatment for GHB Addiction
Although it is unlikely that a person will become addicted to GHB after one or two doses, repeated use can develop into dependence and lead to the onset of withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. For this reason, persons abusing GHB should seek professional treatment as soon as possible.
Midwood Addiction Treatment offers integrated, research-based treatment programs for those struggling with substance abuse or addiction. Our programs, which include psychotherapy, counseling, group support, and medication-assisted treatment, are delivered by highly-trained, compassionate professionals with years of experience in the fields of addiction and mental health.
If you or a loved one is abusing GHB, other drugs, or alcohol, contact us today. Find out how we help people recover and begin to experience the healthy and fulfilling life they deserve!