GHB, or Gamma hydroxybutyrate, is a chemical produced naturally in the human body as part of the metabolic system. It acts as a central nervous system depressant, and so creates a feeling of relaxation in small doses. GHB, also known as G, Gina, or liquid ecstasy (although it has nothing chemically in common with the drug ecstasy), has become more common on the nightclub scene over the past ten years. However, much less is reported about it than other drugs, and there are many misconceptions about its use. Most reporting about GHB has been because of its use as a ‘date rape drug’, recently in the case of serial killer Stephen Port, who used GHB to incapacitate young gay men in order to rape and murder them. It was also linked to the death of pop star George Michael at Christmas last year.
Why Do People Take GHB?
GHB is a relaxant, and users of the drug have reported feelings of euphoria, general happiness, relaxation, and feeling of being more sociable. GHB also lowers inhibitions and increases sexual desire, making it a popular drug amongst some groups of gay men, partly for these reasons. It has also been taken unwittingly by people who have had their drinks spiked when it has been used as a ‘date rape drug’; in these cases, it was used for its sedative effects.
GHB was also frequently used by bodybuilders and gym goers, as it was believed to increase muscle growth. There have also been cases of GHB addiction among older people, who have been told the drug has anti-ageing properties (which it definitely does not).
What Are the Dangers of Using GHB?
In small doses, GHB is relatively safe (although still addictive), but in the higher doses generally used recreationally it can have some very dangerous effects. GHB is normally sold as a colourless, odourless liquid. Illegal drugs do not have labels stating the strength and dosage of the drug, and it is very difficult to know how much of a given batch will be safe. It is very easy for people, even those who think they know what they are doing, to overdose on GHB. Many frequent users admit to having woken up in hospital after unwittingly taking too much. The risks of overdose are particularly high if GHB is combined with alcohol; when used in nightclubs, this happens all too frequently.
Even a little bit more than a ‘safe dose’ can result in dizziness, muscle spasms, nausea, and vomiting. As GHB can suppress the gag reflex, there is an elevated risk of users choking on their own vomit. Slightly more, and the person can lose consciousness, remaining unconscious for anything from a few minutes to several hours. Slightly more again, and the person could fall into a coma, potentially never to wake again. With samples of the drug being of unknown strength, as little as half a millilitre could be the difference between a safe dose and death.
Is GHB Addictive? Does It Have Any Withdrawal Symptoms?
GHB is very addictive. It gives users feelings of increased confidence, lowers anxiety, and does not give them a ‘hangover’. These are powerful positives in the mind of those using the drugs, and users often find it difficult to see the negative sides. Despite many experiencing blackouts after overdosing, they generally do not remember these and so don’t consider them as an adverse effect.
Withdrawal from GHB is very difficult – some medical professionals have suggested it may be worse than withdrawal from heroin – and the symptoms of withdrawal can be very severe. GHB addicts are very likely to relapse before completing their detox programme because of the severity of the symptoms.
The effects of withdrawal from GHB can include insomnia, restlessness and anxiety, muscle tremors, becoming delirious and confused, hallucinations, abnormally rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating, nausea, and vomiting. Some of these symptoms will appear very soon after patients stop taking GHB, but the withdrawal period from the drug can last up to two weeks in some cases.
I Am Struggling with GHB Addiction, What Can I Do?
Given the severity of the withdrawal symptoms, withdrawal and detox from GHB are best done under close medical supervision so that symptoms can be monitored and appropriate medical care is given quickly when needed.
At Addiction Helper, we can give you advice on what sort of treatment would be best for you, based on your individual situation. We can also help you find a suitable treatment centre, and provide ongoing care and counselling once you have completed your rehab programme. So please, contact us today for more information.
(Project GHB) Could you be addicted to GHB?
(DrugAbuse) Club Drugs
(GHB, Ketamine, and Rohypnol) Report
(BBC) The killer drug used by Stephen Port
(Erowid) GHB Withdrawal Syndrome