Gamma hydroxybutyrate — GHB — is a powerful, rapidly acting central nervous system depressant. It was first synthesized in the 1920s and was under development as an anesthetic agent in the 1960s. GHB is produced naturally by the body in small amounts but its physiological function is unclear.

GHB (Xyrem) is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002 for use in the treatment of narcolepsy (a sleep disorder). This approval came with severe restrictions, including its use only for the treatment of narcolepsy, and the requirement for a patient registry monitored by the FDA. This substance is also a metabolite of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It exists naturally in the brain, but at much lower concentrations than those found when GHB is abused.

GHB was sold in health food stores as a performance-enhancing additive in bodybuilding formulas until the Food and Drug Administration banned it in 1990. It is currently marketed in some European countries as an adjunct to anesthesia. The drug is abused for its ability to produce euphoric and hallucinogenic states and for its alleged function as a growth hormone that releases agents to stimulate muscle growth. GHB became a Schedule I Controlled Substance in March 2000.

In the United States, GHB is produced in clandestine laboratories with no guarantee of quality or purity, making its effects less predictable and more difficult to diagnose. This drug can be manufactured with inexpensive ingredients and using recipes on the Internet. Gamma butyrolactone — GBL — and 1,4-butanediol are analogs of GHB that can be substituted for it. Once ingested, these analogs convert to GHB and produce identical effects. GBL, an industrial solvent, is used as an immediate precursor in the clandestine production of GHB. The FDA has issued warnings for both GBL and 1,4-butanediol, stating that the drugs have a potential for abuse and are a public health danger.

This substance has been used to facilitate sexual assault. It can easily be slipped into a drink without the victim’s knowledge, and can cause drowsiness, sleep and short-term memory loss. This means that victims may not be able to resist or recall a sexual assault.

Short term effects

It acts as depressant on the central nervous system. It is rapidly metabolized by the body. The effects of the drug can be felt within fifteen to twenty minutes after ingestion. Effects of a low to moderate dose may include:

  • feelings of euphoria;
  • increased libido;
  • lowered inhibitions;
  • memory lapses;
  • drowsiness;
  • sleep;
  • dizziness and headache;
  • tremor;
  • decreased body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate;
  • nausea;
  • diarrhoea; and
  • urinary incontinence.

When GHB is ingested with alcohol or other drugs, the consequences may be life threatening. Without immediate and appropriate medical care, the results may be fatal.

ghb party

GHB Long term effects

There is evidence that GHB is highly addictive. People who use this drug regularly can develop a tolerance and dependence very quickly. Dependence on GHB can be psychological, physical or both.

People who are psychologically dependent on GHB find that using the drug becomes far more important than other activities in their life. They crave the drug and will find it very difficult to stop using it.

Physical dependence occurs when a person’s body adapts to the substance and gets used to functioning with the GHB present. People who are physically dependent on GHB usually develop tolerance to the drug, making it necessary to take more and more GHB to get the same effect.

Several characteristics of GHB make it especially dangerous: First, it takes a very small amount (e.g., a few drops, a capful) to have a big effect. It is easy to overdose. Second, when the drug is used alone, or when it is mixed with alcohol and other drugs, it may cause death. Third, most of the GHB being used today is the “homegrown” variety. It is made by non-professionals in their own “street labs,” kitchens, or bathtubs by mixing various chemical ingredients. There may be significant differences in the purity, concentration, and potency of various batches. The same amount taken from two separate batches may have very different effects.

GHB and Sex

Scientists and doctors have traditionally been reluctant to ascribe aphrodisiac properties to any substance, although this tendency may have abated somewhat in recent years. It is a testament, then, to the power the GHB’s sexual effects that they were clearly acknowledged in the scientific literature by 1972. Dr. Laborit wrote:

“A last point should still be mentioned: the GHB action on Man which could be called ‘aphrodisiac.’ We cannot present any animal experiments on this subject. However, the oral form has now been sufficiently used so that, as generally agreed, no doubt can subsist as to its existence.”

We have identified four main prosexual properties:

  • disinhibition,
  • heightening of the sense of touch (tactility),
  • enhancement of male erectile capacity, and
  • increased intensity of orgasm.

Perhaps the foremost prosexual property of this drug is disinhibition. Some users suggest that GHB’s other sexual benefits are secondary effects, made possible (or at least amplified) by this loosening of psychosomatic constraint. A number of people have commented that this disinhibition is particularly marked among women.

Women often report that GHB makes their orgasms longer and more intense, as well as more difficult or time-consuming to achieve, especially at higher doses. As with its other effects, GHB’s impact on female orgasm seems highly sensitive to small adjustments in dosage.