Overview: GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) has gotten
its share of media attention lately, due to its club-culture
links and (for a time) its semi-legal status. Sold over the counter
as a dietary supplement for years, distribution was halted by
the Food and Drug Administration in 1990. Still, even though
the FDA action blocked sale of the drug, possession remained
legal in most states — legal, at least, until a federal law
in 2000 banned all possession of GHB nationwide, due to its alleged
links to incidents of date rape.
Street Names: Liquid ‘X’, Liquid ‘E’ (since some effects
are similar to the psychedelic drug “ecstasy”), GBH,
easy lay, grievous bodily harm.
Appearance: A clear liquid, GHB is often mixed with
juice to conceal its salty, unpleasant taste.
Actions/Effects: First synthesized by a French researcher
in the 1960’s, GHB is structurally similar to the neurotransmitter
GABA and triggers its effects, by increasing the brain’s supply
of the neurotransmitters GABA and dopamine. At moderate doses,
GHB causes feelings of relaxation, euphoria, and disinhibition
much like alcohol. At higher doses, GHB induces a sleep so deep
that it can be mistaken for coma.
Risks/Side Effects: Since GHB occurs naturally in
the human body (and serves as a precursor in the production of
GABA), the chemical is relatively nontoxic. Still, synthetic
forms of GHB can irritate the stomach and cause nausea or vomiting.
Confusion and impaired motor skills may also occur, particularly
at higher doses, but food can reverse these effects. Use in combination
with alcohol intensifies effects and the risk of overdose.
Addiction Potential: Although tolerance to GHB’s effects
appears with long-term use, it does not produce physical dependence.
GHB can be psychologically addictive, however, particularly for
those with a history of chemical dependency.
Duration: Effects begin within 5-20 minutes of
ingestion and last 1-3 hours, but can be prolonged through repeated
Medical Uses: GHB hs been used in Europe to ease childbirth,
and also to treat insomnia, narcolepsy, and alcoholism.
Trends: Following reports of drink “spiking,”
and allegations GHB was used in acts of sexual assault, federal
legislation designating GHB as a Schedule I controlled substance
was signed into law in February, 2000, banning possession and
sale throughout the United States.