Everyone knows illicit drugs are risky and have harmful side effects. GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) is unique in that it is known to melt plastic, has been used to lace people’s drinks to make them unconscious, and can easily cause overdoses.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation reports that GHB acts as a depressant, and no amount of it is recognized as safe. GHB acts quickly, and anyone who takes it could stay under its effects for three to four hours.
In a report from November 2018, The Guardian mentions that GHB can lead to a coma in minutes if it is mixed with alcohol or another depressant. Since no amount of GHB has been deemed safe, it is easy for GHB users to overdose on it by accident.
How GHB is Used
GHB is available as a liquid that is salty or bitter to the taste. It is odorless and usually transparent, though some forms of GHB are blue.
Sometimes it is sold as a pill or powder. Nicknames for GHB include G, liquid E, blue nitro, gamma G, and fantasy.
Concerns about GHB have surfaced over the years because it has been used as a date rape drug. When used for this purpose, GHB is masked in food or drinks to make an unsuspecting victim pass out and have temporary amnesia.
Today, GHB is also known as a recreational party drug. Some of its known effects are:
- Increase in libido (sex drive)
- Euphoria and overall feelings of pleasure
- Lowered inhibitions
The Guardian reports that some women use GHB as an alternative to alcohol when they go to clubs because it has no calories, and they believe it produces no hangovers.
A February 2017 report from The Conversation mentions that effects of GHB are not widely known, but its pleasurable high could be the result of an increase in dopamine.
Generally, people who take GHB for fun swallow the liquid or powder. Some may take GHB rectally or inject it.
Overdosing on GHB is very easy. There is a fine line between how much is needed to feel its euphoric effects and how much could send a person to the hospital.
It is common for people to ingest GHB with alcohol, either by accident or on purpose, which increases the probability of an overdose.
Common Symptoms of A GHB Overdose Include:
- Shallow breathing
- Loss of consciousness for three to four hours
According to a Vice article from February 2017, 20 Australians overdosed on GHB at a Melbourne electronic music festival. People who took GHB had purchased tablets they believed contained MDMA (ecstasy, Molly).
GHB is dangerous to overdose on because it is an efficient sedative that can cause the heart and breathing to stop.
How to Get Help
Recognizing the symptoms of a GHB overdose could save someone’s life.
GHB acts quickly, and this makes it hard for a person to monitor how they are feeling. Paying attention to friends and loved ones is key if they are using GHB.
GHB can make drinks seem a bit salty. If you notice a different flavor in your drink, call 911 or ask someone you trust for help, and stop drinking immediately.
If you see someone with symptoms of GHB overdose, it is imperative to call 911.
These Symptoms Include:
- Dizziness or trouble balancing
- Muscle spasms
- Inability to wake up while sleeping
- Slurred speech
Since GHB is sometimes slipped into people’s food or drinks without their knowledge, overdose can easily happen. The consequences of overdose can include coma and death.
Give the 911 dispatcher all the information you have.
- Tell them your exact location, including the address and anything that might make the building easier to find.
- Describe the nature of the emergency and what you need, such as a paramedic or a cop if a person who is high on GHB is acting aggressively.
- Listen to the 911 dispatcher and follow their directions until help arrives.
- If there are pets in the home, tell the dispatcher so that the paramedics can be ready to deal with a pet who might be stressed during this situation.
Usually, paramedics are there to assist during an overdose, but they may be accompanied by police if you requested their presence. Paramedics will want to know more information, such as:
- Any known medical issues or chronic ailments
- A best estimate of how much GHB was taken and what other substances may have been used
- A preferred hospital, if you know the patient’s preferences
Once at the emergency room, you can expect doctors to perform an assessment and decide on next steps. The patient may have to stay for observation or have an appointment for follow-up care after they have been discharged.
Signs of GHB Misuse
A 2012 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that GHB is misused in the United States, Europe, and Australia. However, misuse statistics are still hard to come by.
The report highlights a few factors that make it easy to misuse the drug:
- It is relatively cheap and easy to use.
- It is used to help people relax if they have consumed too many stimulants.
- Alcohol can amplify its effects.
- Some of the chemicals used to make it are easy to find.
The good news from WHO is that GHB use in the U.S. is steady, which means there has been no spike in its use. In 2015, Current Pharmacology reported that its low cost makes GHB more dangerous than other drugs.
The Telegraph also reports that GHB also occurs in nature. It is part of the human metabolism and present in low levels in alcoholic drinks, including red wine. The substance was also used to treat certain disorders until 1990, when it was declared unlawful in the United States.
Though not much is known about long-term use of GHB, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation reports that it is possible to build tolerance to and dependence on the drug.
Withdrawal From GHB
Per the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, it is possible to experience withdrawal symptoms from GHB. In fact, suddenly quitting GHB after regular use or large doses could cause symptoms as serious as blackouts, bladder control issues, and changes in bowel movements.
Other Common Withdrawal Symptoms From GHB Are:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Lack of quality sleep
- Muscle cramps
- Faster heartbeat
GHB Abuse Symptoms
If you’ve reached a point of GHB overdose, it likely means you’ve been taking it for a prolonged period and increased your dose to defeat the tolerance you developed as a result. Unfortunately, GHB is a dangerous drug, and addiction is possible. If you’ve reached this point, you might wonder how to beat GHB addiction and what treatment looks like. Fortunately, help is available to you to overcome this affliction.
GHB is a central nervous system depressant and produces relaxing effects, similar to alcohol and benzodiazepines. For this reason, it’s sought out by users as a means to relax. However, it produces intense effects that cause the user to lose control over their movements and lose consciousness. For this reason, taking a little too much can lead to GHB overdose death. As was mentioned above, it’s important to watch someone who’s taken the drug to ensure they’re not exhibiting GHB overdose symptoms. However, those who don’t overdose will continue using it because of the effects. GHB acts like an aphrodisiac in smaller doses, producing euphoria and sociability, which is why it’s popular in club settings.
Although GHB was synthesized in 1920 and used in the 1960s, it wasn’t made illegal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) until 1990. However, it was then approved in 2002 as a means of treating narcolepsy. Despite that, it’s still controlled, and recreational use of the drug is highly illegal. Since it’s often abused, it’s important to know the GHB overdose symptoms, but it’s also important to know the symptoms of abuse to get help before it’s too late.
The symptoms of GHB abuse are distinct from other drugs, whether someone is on the medication or suffering from the aftereffects. You should also keep in mind that even if you’re prescribed a drug like GHB for narcolepsy, it can still be abused. It’s harder to accept for the person taking it because a doctor provided it to them for a specific disorder. Taking more than prescribed or getting a prescription that isn’t needed is also drug abuse.
Signs of GHB abuse include the following:
- Loss of motor control
- Loss of inhibitions
- Increased sex drive
- Impulsive behavior
- Memory loss
- Incoherent or slurred speech
- Unusual body language
- Loss of consciousness
Please note that these will not occur in the same person. These are all potential side effects, and it’s unpredictable to determine which will happen in the person. GHB users may act like they’re drunk or like they’re on ecstasy. Despite the distinct symptoms, determining if someone is using GHB is challenging. However, if ecstasy or alcohol is ruled out, GHB could be the culprit. Anyone who regularly attends raves and dance parties is likely to be using club drugs like GHB. This will lead to changes in your sleep schedule and sleep disturbances, as well as cause the individual to forego responsibilities like work or school. You might even notice a decline in their hygiene or grooming.
It’s not easy to admit you’ve become addicted to a drug, but when you give up your responsibilities to use GHB, you’ve likely developed an addiction. One sign is the intense withdrawal symptoms you experience when you aren’t using it; another is giving into those and picking up the drug. If you take GHB as a daily sleep aid, that’s another sign.
If you suspect either yourself or a loved one has become dependent on GHB, you must take it seriously because of its unpredictability and how it can lead to a potentially fatal overdose. GHB addiction is serious, and you must seek help right away.
The Bottom Line
If you suspect you or someone else has overdosed on GHB, call 911 immediately. Every minute counts.