GHB

GHB, G, grievous bodily harm, fantasy, liquid E, liquid ecstasy, blue nitro, GBL, 1,4-B

GHB stands for gamma-hydroxybutyrate, which is a depressant. Although it is sometimes called liquid ecstasy it is not chemically related to ecstasy, which is a stimulant. GHB is a naturally occurring substance found in the body.

It was first synthesised in the 1960s and developed as an anaesthetic, and has been used as a treatment for a number of medical conditions, including insomnia, depression, narcolepsy and alcoholism.

It has also been used by bodybuilders and athletes in the belief that it raises growth hormone levels; however, there is no evidence that this is the case. More recently, it has been associated with the nightclub and rave scenes.

GHB usually comes as a liquid, and is sold in vials, bottles or fish-shaped soy sauce containers. It is colourless, but may have colour added to stop it being mistaken for water or other clear liquids. It is odourless, and can have either a bitter or a salty taste.

Less often, GHB is found in the form of a white powder.

GHB, GBL and 1,4-B

Some other chemicals, including gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) and 1,4-butanediol (1,4-B) are converted to GHB by the body when they are ingested. GHB is reported to have a salty taste, while GBL and 1,4-B are said to have a 'chemical' taste.

GHB and the law

It is prohibited to use, possess, supply or manufacture GHB in New South Wales.

How GHB is used

GHB is usually swallowed.

Short term effects

The short-term effects of GHB include:

  • feelings of euphoria and increased wellbeing
  • increased libido
  • drowsiness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • visual disturbances
  • agitation and dizziness.

More serious effects can include respiratory distress, seizures and death.

Different stages include the 'comeup', where the user gradually starts to feel the effects, the 'peak', when the effects are at their most intense, and the 'comedown', when the user may find themself physically and emotionally drained.

How long the stages last may depend on the person's metabolism, whether they have recently eaten, the quantity consumed and whether the drug consumed was GHB, GBL or 1,4-B. GHB starts to have an effect in around 10-15 minutes, reaching a plateau in around 45-90 minutes and diminishing over the next 15-30 minutes.

Long term effects

Little is known about the long-term effects of GHB due to the short time it has been used as a recreational drug.

How common is GHB use?

The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that 1.0% of Australians aged 14 and over have ever tried GHB, while 0.1% used GHB in the year preceding the survey.

GHB and driving

The short-term effects, including drowsiness, visual disturbances and dizziness, mean that it is dangerous, as well as illegal, to drive while taking GHB.

GHB and pregnancy

Little is known about the effects of GHB on the unborn child. However, it is possible that GHB crosses the placenta in pregnancy, and has some effect on the baby. It is also possible that GHB will be present in breast milk if taken during breastfeeding.

It is generally risky to take any drug while pregnant or breastfeeding without medical advice.

Using GHB with other drugs

When GHB is mixed with other depressants, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, it increases the depressant effects of both drugs, which may lead to respiratory distress and even death.

Drink spiking

It is often suggested that GHB is used in drink spiking, because it can be tasteless, odourless and hard to detect. However, users report that GHB can have an unpleasant taste which would be difficult to disguise. Also, as GHB has powerful depressant effects, many experts believe that if it were often used in drink spiking there would be many more deaths than actually occur, particularly if a victim had been consuming alcohol beforehand

Dependence

Dependence can develop when GHB is taken on a regular basis.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms may include insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, tremors, sweating, and chest pain and tightness. How long the symptoms last depends on the dosage and frequency of use.

Overdose

Overdosing is a serious danger with GHB. The difference between a dose that produces the desired effects and a dose that produces dangerous effects is very small. Analysis of different vials of GHB has shown that the concentration varies considerably, so users can never be sure of how much they are taking.

Treatment

Evidence from better-researched drugs suggests that services providing good social support, as well as psychological interventions to help maintain motivation and improve coping skills, may be effective.