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Primer: GHB, the Club Drug

GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) is a fast-acting, central nervous system depressant once sold as a food supplement. It is now generally called a club drug because of its popularity among teens attending all-night dance parties (raves).

GHB was developed as an anesthetic in the 1960s, and subsequently sold in health food stores as a performance enhancer for bodybuilders. The FDA banned GHB in 1990; it is now a Schedule I Controlled Substance.

On the street, GHB is used for its ability to produce a feeling of euphoria and hallucinations.

GHB can be made in secret labs with inexpensive ingredients. It's usually sold as a liquid by the dose (a capful from a bottle or drops). In some cities, GHB is put into water guns and users buy it by the squirt. In other instances, candy, such as a lollipop, is dipped in GHB and sold.

GHB also is known as Liquid Ecstasy, Grievous Bodily Harm, Georgia Home Boy, Liquid X, Liquid E, GBH, Soap, Scoop, Easy Lay, Salty Water, G-Riffick, Cherry Meth, Nature’s Quaalude, Zonked, Organic Quaalude, G, Jib, and Woman’s Viagra.


The effects vary each time a person uses it, and it effects each person differently. In general, the effects begin 15 to 30 minutes after taking the drug and last three to six hours. Taking less than 1 gram produces a feeling of relaxation and reduced inhibitions. At 1 to 2 grams, heart rate and breathing slow down, and balance and coordination are affected. Other effects include vomiting, high blood pressure, mood swings, violent behavior, and vertigo.

At higher doses, coordination and speech are strongly affected, and the person may drift into a coma-like sleep. Excessive use also can lead to irregular and depressed respiration, tremors and death

GHB produces a feeling similar to alcohol, and its effects are intensified when combined with alcohol. The drug is addictive, and its withdrawal symptoms include sweating, insomnia, muscle cramping, tremors, and anxiety.

It’s difficult to predict a person’s reaction to GHB; the purity and strength of doses vary. No tests are available to detect GHB use, and many emergency room doctors and nurses are unfamiliar with it, so many GHB incidents go undetected.

GHB is characterized as a “date-rape” drug because, being odorless, colorless and nearly tasteless (excepts for a slightly salty taste), it’s easily slipped into drinks. It can make a person feel less inhibited, increase sexual feelings, and cause amnesia for the period of intoxication, making a charge of date rape harder to establish.

The most dangerous feature of GHB is that an overdose can occur within minutes.

(A medication form of GHB known as sodium oxybate [Xyrem] does have a legitimate medical use. In 2002, the FDA approved Xyrem as a Schedule 3 controlled substance for the treatment of cataplexy, a condition in which muscles suddenly go limp. This condition is associated with narcolepsy. Even though it is legal for that purpose, it is highly controlled in pharmacies.)

Take action

A GHB overdose is an emergency. If you think you may have taken GHB, seek emergency medical assistance immediately. Although some people may not seem to have bad reactions to GHB, the drug is potentially fatal.

Signs of an overdose include dizziness, lightheadedness, mental confusion, nausea, vomiting, respiratory depression, and loss of consciousness.