10 September 2009


GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a naturally occurring component of human cells and in wine.

Original article by

GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a naturally occurring component of human cells and in wine. It is used most commonly in the form of a chemical salt (Na-GHB or K-GHB) which is taken recreationally as a depressant with effects quite similar to those of alcohol.

These salts are powders but are most often mixed with water for recreational use. While GHB is most notorious for a few cases where it has been given to unsuspecting individuals, it is more commonly used as a recreational intoxicant like alcohol, as a sleep-aid, or as a supplement by body-builders.

One of the major concerns with GHB is that the recreational dosage range is narrow and even small overdoses can cause temporary unrousable unconsciousness (a type of coma) and large overdoses (poisonings) can be life-threatening. There are two other chemicals which are used as GHB equivalents: 1,4-butanediol and gamma butyrlactone.

A standard recreational dose of pure GHB powder is between one and three grams, though some people use as much as four to five grams in a single dose: especially frequent users who have developed a tolerance. Unfortunately, GHB is most frequently found in liquid form of widely variable concentration. One gram of GHB powder can be dissolved into as little as 1ml of water (though sludgy at that concentration, this makes 5g per teaspoon) or a much greater volume and there is virtually no way to tell the concentration once it's in liquid form.

The only way to know the concentration of liquid GHB is to know and trust information provided by the source. Users should be extremely careful about GHB dosages as even small overdoses can result in temporarily unrousable sleep.

GHB is most commonly produced by combining gamma butyrlactone and a strong base such as sodium hydroxide (lye). These two substances react chemically and form the unique chemical GHB.

GHB was developed in the early 60s as a human anaesthetic, but was discontinued due to unwanted side effects. Its use as a sleep aid and body building supplement in the 80s and as a recreational psychoactive in the 90s led to it being scheduled in the U.S. in March of 2000.

Terminology / Slang
The Substance: GHB; G; Liquid X; Liquid E; GBH; Gamma-oh; Blue Verve.
The Experience: G-ing (pronounced "Gee-ing").

The effects of GHB at recreational doses are physically quite similar to those of alcohol. At lower doses effects include relaxation, reduction of social inhibitions, decreased motor skills, mood lift and other effects similar to mild alcohol intoxication. At higher recreational doses effects can include dizziness, difficulty focusing the eyes, positive mood changes, increased appreciation of music, dancing, and talking, slurring of speech, nausea, and grogginess.

The line between high recreational dose and overdose can be a narrow one. At the overdose level, individuals may experience extreme grogginess (nodding in and out of consciousness) or unconsciousness, extreme dizziness and disorientation, and vomiting. During higher overdoses (poisonings), users may experience unconsciousness, convulsions, vomiting, and potentially depressed breathing.

As with alcohol and many other substances, the onset of GHB will be affected by how much and how recently one has eaten. Generally some effects begin between 10-20 minutes and continue to get stronger for 30-60 minutes.

The primary effects of GHB last approximately 1.5 to two hours hours. For many people there is an additional period of time (one to two hours) of more subtle effects. Some recreational users consume GHB in a manner similar to alcohol, sipping it slowly over an evening rather than drinking a full dose all at once. In this case the duration will be longer as the period of ingestion is stretched out over time. Some lingering effects continue for hours longer.

Unfortunately, GHB has a few prominent problems which, in combination, can be quite dangerous. The difference between a recreational dose and a mild overdose (temporarily unrousable sleep) can be as little as one to two grams, the equivalent of a single dosage unit. Combining GHB with alcohol can lead to nausea, vomiting, and unconsciousness at even lower levels. Also, because GHB often comes in liquid form and because the concentration of this liquid is difficult to determine, it is relatively common for people to accidentally take a larger dose of GHB than they think they are taking. Everyone thinks it can't happen to them, but people should be extremely careful about knowing the concentration of the material they use and about measurement techniques.

GHB should be stored in a container which could never be mistaken for a beverage container and liquid GHB should be coloured blue so it can not be mistaken for water. Powdered GHB is much less likely to be accidentally ingested.

In addition to the problems around dosage, GHB also has a problem with the specific effects of an overdose. At higher overdose levels, GHB can produce both unconsciousness and vomiting. This can be an extremely dangerous combination. Vomiting while laying unconscious on one's back can lead to aspiration (inhalation) of the vomit which can cause suffocation and damage to the lungs. Individuals who are unconscious and vomiting should be turned on their side and their airway cleared so they do not inhale their vomit, and should be constantly monitored until help arrives or they become conscious. People who find themselves alone in this situation should try to position themselves so vomit inhalation can not happen if they fall unconscious.

Beyond the respiration of vomit, it has been suggested that GHB poisonings (high overdoses) can cause death but this is not a well understood or researched issue. The DEA reports over 60 GHB related deaths in the U.S. over the past five years, about two thirds of these are poly-drug mortalities while a third are GHB only.

Another problem associated with GHB is the issue of rape and assault that goes along with chemicals which can be added to drinks and given to unsuspecting victims.

Taking GHB with alcohol causes cumulative depressive effects as well as increased nausea and vomiting. This can be an extremely dangerous combination. Avoid mixing GHB with other depressants and opiates.

Addiction potential
The addiction potential of GHB is not well known, but from reports it appears that GHB can be both physically addicting and mentally habituating for a small percentage of users. We have received reports from a few individuals of severe withdrawal symptoms lasting for several days following repeated daily use. These symptoms include a strong desire to repeat the experience, difficulty sleeping, vertigo, and worrisome chest pains. We have not received any reports from users who find it difficult to stay off GHB once the withdrawal period is over.

- Article used with the permission of Last modified September 2009.

Erowid caution and disclaimer

This Erowid article is a summary of data gathered from Erowid site visitors, government documents, books, websites, and other resources. As this field is complex and constantly changing, information should always be verified through additional sources.


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.