GHB: Effects, Risks, and How to Help if Someone Has Been Drugged
What Is GHB?
Technically known as 4-hydroxybutanoic acid, GHB is a psychoactive drug that works by interacting with the GABA receptors in the brain. This produces sedation, euphoria, enhanced libido, an enhanced sense of empathy, and a decrease in inhibitions.
GHB stands for gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, a drug that has some legal standing in the US in specific applications but is largely a drug of abuse. There is one prescription version of GHB available in the US, sold as sodium oxybate, under the brand name Xyrem. The drug is also a metabolite of several industrial solvents. In addition, GHB is a naturally occurring metabolite from the human body breaking down food, although not in the same large quantities as when the drug is ingested for recreational purposes.
Illegally, GHB can be found in fat loss supplements, bodybuilding drugs, and some supplements that allegedly reverse balding, poor eyesight, aging, depression, insomnia, and more. GHB is also referred to as “liquid ecstasy,” as it has become a replacement for MDMA among some people who regularly get high at clubs or raves. GHB induces similar “touchy-feely” effects as ecstasy. It has also been used as a date rape drug because it creates a sense of calm, induces sleepiness or fatigue, and increases passivity. Nonmedical possession of GHB has been illegal in the US since 2000.
Signs of GHB Intoxication
The high produced by GHB is often described as sharing traits with both alcohol and MDMA (ecstasy) intoxication. Watch out for the following symptoms when drinking at a public event where drugs may be present:
- Reduction in inhibitions
- Unusual behavior
- Sudden increase in empathy and friendliness
- Increased sexual desire
- Sudden spike in happiness
- Visual disturbances
- Slowed breathing
- Difficulty communicating
- Loss of coordination
- Strange, erratic body movements
- Erratic facial expressions
Any time someone begins exhibiting unusual behaviors or seems to be acting out of character when they haven’t been taking drugs or drinking alcohol, this is a sign that they may have been drugged. Once this has been suspected, immediate action should be taken.
Is GHB Used as a “Date Rape Drug”?
Because GHB is colorless and odorless, it is undetectable if slipped into a drink. People drugged with GHB may feel groggy and unable to fight off an attacker, and they may not be able to remember what happened to them after the drug wears off.
Because of the increase in date rape cases involving drugs like GHB, information campaigns have popped up across many nations to help people guard themselves against it. Unfortunately, no matter how careful people are, it’s still possible to become unwillingly drugged, especially in bars, nightclubs, or at parties where it can be hard to keep perfect track of every drink you consume. It’s therefore very important to be aware of the signs of date rape drugging and know what to do if you suspect someone has been drugged in this fashion.
Steps to Take if Someone has been Drugged with GHB
If the symptoms of GHB intoxication are identified and it’s clear that the victim did not willingly take the drug, it’s important to act right away. Take the following steps to get the drugged person out of danger:
Step 1: Get any drinks or other intoxicants away from them.
Step 2: Alert trusted individuals about the situation.
Step 3: Remove the victim from the situation, whether it’s a bar, party, or nightclub.
Step 4: Monitor the victim’s state of consciousness and breathing. If breathing stops or the victim loses consciousness, call emergency services.
Step 5: Take the victim to an emergency room or urgent care center. There is always a risk of overdose when someone has been drugged against their will.
Step 6: Stay with the victim the entire time. Their behavior may be unpredictable and the perpetrator could still be after them. It could even be an acquaintance or friend who drugged the victim.
Step 7: Follow doctors’ instructions upon taking the victim home.
Step 8: Make sure the victim’s home is secure and that the person feels safe.
You likely want to report the incident to the police once the victim is safe. It can be very difficult to determine who drugged the victim, but if you were in a public place like a bar or restaurant, there may be video footage of the illegal act that police can access.
Serious Health Effects of GHB
Low doses of GHB induce effects similar to those of alcohol intoxication: relaxation, stumbling, slurred speech, euphoria, confusion, low inhibitions, and poor decision-making abilities. While these symptoms can be dangerous on their own, higher doses of GHB can cause much more serious problems. At larger doses, especially like those seen on the club scene, GHB can cause dangerous effects. Some of these include:
- Nausea, vomiting, and stomach problems.
- Dehydration from excessive sweating.
- Short-term amnesia.
- Uncontrollable shaking.
- Injury from loss of coordination.
- Hypothermia, or low body temperature.
- Bradycardia, or slow heart rate.
- Respiratory depression, leading to lack of oxygen in the body.
- Suppression of the gag reflex, leading to choking on vomit.
Since too much GHB can also cause overdose, long-term brain or organ damage can also be caused by GHB. Death can occur in certain instances.
Can you Overdose on GHB?
Yes, it is possible to overdose on GHB. The drug has been linked to several deaths around the world since 1990. While mixing GHB with other drugs increases the risk of overdose, simply taking too much GHB can cause an overdose. GHB overdose symptoms include:
- Falling unconscious.
- Incoherent if conscious.
- Extreme sweating.
- Irregular or shallow breathing.
- Loss of physical coordination, including inability to stand.
- Involuntary muscle contractions, shaking, twitching, or tremors.
What Drugs Interact with GHB?
Because GHB is a potent drug, especially when ingested for nonmedical reasons, it interacts with many substances, both illicit and legal. Here are some of the substances that interact negatively with GHB:
- Alcohol: Alcohol increases sleepiness and drowsiness to dangerous levels when combined with GHB.
- Amphetamines: These drugs speed up nervous system reactions while GHB slows them down. Dangerous side effects can occur when mixing stimulants and depressants.
- Narcotics: Mixing CNS depressants increases the risk of overdose and death.
- Haloperidol: The antipsychotic medication should not be mixed with GHB, as both drugs affect the brain and sensory perceptions.
- Other antipsychotic, anti-anxiety, or antidepressant medications: Anything that affects mood or sensory perception should not be mixed with recreational drugs like GHB.
- Sedative medications, including muscle relaxers: These drugs can combine with GHB to increase drowsiness to the point where the person does not wake up.