What Is GHB?

Known today as an infamous date rape drug, GHB, or Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (C4H8O3), can produce effects ranging from euphoria (at low doses) to blackouts and amnesia. Initially, the chemical compound became popular as a surgery anesthetic in the 1960s, then as a party drug and fat burner in the 1980s. The body produces small amounts of GHB naturally in the brain. Some meats, beer, and wine also contain GHB; the average liter of wine holds between 4 mg and 21 mg of GHB. Conversely, illicit GHB confiscated from clubs and street sales commonly hold between 500 mg and 3,000 mg of GHB.

Street names for GHB include:
  • Gamma Oh
  • Georgia Home Boy
  • Great Hormones at Bedtime
  • Grievous Bodily Harm
  • Growth Hormone Booster<
  • Liquid Ecstasy
  • Liquid X
  • Salty Water
  • Sleep
  • Vita G

While the FDA approved Xyrem® (a medication with GHB used to treat narcolepsy) in 2002, it is strictly regulated as a Schedule III substance and not available in normal retail pharmacies. Illicit GHB, on the other hand, is created by street drug manufacturers and frequently sold on the internet as a hallucinogen. It can be found as a colorless, odorless liquid or white powder that may have a soapy or salty taste.

Most people have heard of GHB because of its popularity in the club and electronic music scenes. Some report using the drug for its alcohol-like effects – without the loss of body control, slurred speech, or hangover. Gym-goers have also reportedly used the drug to burn fat and build muscles. However, sexual predators have also used GHB as a date rape drug by pouring the nearly undetectable substance into an unsuspecting victim’s drink. The amount used by these criminals is usually enough to make the victim lose consciousness, leave them unable to defend themselves, and forget the details of what happened the next day.

Effects of GHB

Though many people describe the feelings caused by taking low doses of GHB as euphoric and full of energy, even small doses can cause loss of consciousness, hallucinations, amnesia, and a coma. Because most of the GHB consumed in the U.S. is manufactured illegally, it’s impossible to know the concentration of GHB in each dose without testing it in a lab. Furthermore, the difference between a low dose of GHB and a potentially lethal dose of GHB can be relatively small.

The short-term side effects of GHB may include:

  • Amnesia
  • Clumsiness
  • Confusion
  • Exhaustion
  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Headache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Lower body temperature
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Sluggishness
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

The body quickly breaks down GHB and is difficult to detect in urine after 24 hours.

Some of its effects at low doses may feel similar to stimulants, yet it is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. As such, overdose typically involves respiratory depression. Often, when a person overdoses on GHB, people mistakenly believe the person is sleeping while, in reality, they are losing their ability to breathe.