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GHB, or gamma-hydroxybutyrate, is a central nervous system depressant that is sometimes abused as a party drug.

9 Minute Read | Published Oct 03 2023 | Updated Mar 02 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
David Levin
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
David Levin
Reviewed by

Other Names: Date Rape Drug, G, Gamma Oh, Georgia Homeboy, Great Hormone at Bedtime, Grievous Bodily Harm, Growth Hormone Booster, Liquid Ecstasy, Liquid X, Liquid E, Salty Water, Vita-G, Easy Lay, Scoop, Goop, Blue Nitro, Cherry FX Bombs, Poor Man’s Heroin, G-Riffick, Remforce, Revivarant, Fantasy, Firewater, Jib, Somatomax

While GHB is naturally found in the body and in small amounts in certain foods and beverages, the substance is also a popular recreational drug. Used in this manner, the substance can cause euphoria, increased sex drive, and heightened sensations. It’s also utilized as a date-rape drug because it can cause amnesia and increase passiveness and suggestibility among victims.

GHB affects the body by slowing down brain activity during sleep. In addition, due to the nerve pathways that the drug takes, it can also activate the body’s pain killing system and cause the rising of growth hormone levels.

Why Do People Use GHB?

GHB is commonly taken or administered for the following purposes:

  • As a recreational drug that produces euphoric and calming effects
  • As a supplement that supposedly builds muscles and causes weight loss
  • As a date-rape drug that renders the victim vulnerable to crime and abuse

Once used as a dietary supplement in the United States, GHB has been classified as a Schedule I controlled substance that has no accepted medical use. However, there are FDA-approved medications like Xyrem that use GHB as an active ingredient, and these are classified as Schedule III controlled substances under the federal drug scheduling system. Schedule III substances are considered to have less potential for abuse compared to Schedule I drugs. Still, it should be noted that the illicit use of Xyrem is subject to Schedule I penalties.

How Is GHB Abused?

GHB is typically sold in liquid form or as a white powder that is dissolved in liquids like alcohol, water, or juice. It is taken orally. The drug is typically presented in 1- to 5-gram doses, though ‘homebrew’ concoctions can come in a variety of concentrations. Colorless and odorless, GHB’s slightly salty taste can be easily masked when mixed with liquids that have strong odors.

GHB Drug Interactions

Mixing GHB with the following substances can lead to interactions and adverse reactions:

  • Alcohol: Mixing alcohol with GHB can lead to increased sleepiness and drowsiness
  • Amphetamines: Amphetamines speed up the nervous system while GHB slows it down
  • Anticonvulsants: Anti-seizure medications can transform GHB to GABA and reduce its effects
  • Antipsychotic drugs: These drugs can increase the serious side effects of taking GHB
  • Benzodiazepines: GHB can potentiate the central nervous system depressant effects of benzodiazepines
  • Haloperidol: GHB and haloperidol substances can both affect the brain
  • Muscle relaxants: Mixing GHB and muscle relaxants can cause drowsiness and serious side effects
  • Narcotic drugs: Mixing opioids and GHB can lead to severe central nervous system depression
  • Ritonavir: Taking ritonavir with GHB can reduce the body’s speed in eliminating GHB
  • Saquinavir: Taking saquinavir with GHB can slow down the elimination of GHB in the body

GHB has no known food interactions.

GHB’s Side Effects

How the body reacts to GHB highly depends on the dose and the potency of the drug. However, it is difficult to find out how pure or potent a packet of GHB could be since there is no standard for manufacturing in clandestine laboratories. Hence, those who take GHB cannot ascertain how their bodies will react after taking a dose of the drug. Moreover, it is possible for what seems like a small dose of GHB to actually have high enough potency to induce severe side effects.

GHB can start taking effect within 15 to 30 minutes of ingestion, and its effect can last anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. Among the short term effects of the drug are:

Physical Effects

  • Lower body temperature
  • Slowed or shallow breathing
  • Slowed heartbeat with change in blood pressure
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting

Mental Effects

  • Aggression
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Euphoria
  • Impairment of judgement
  • Increased libido
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sedation
  • Short-term amnesia

Long-Term Effects of GHB Use

Frequent use of GHB has been linked to several changes in the brain. A 2018 study from the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology revealed that individuals who experienced multiple GHB-induced comas experienced several negative effects compared to those who used drug combinations but did not use GHB.

Through an adult reading test and brain scan, researchers found out that chronic GHB use can lead to altered brain activity and negative effects on long-term memory, IQ, and working memory. Moreover, regular GHB consumers also experienced higher levels of stress and anxiety compared to those who have not taken the substance.

More research is needed for a better understanding of GHB’s long-term effects. It is clear, however, that GHB consumption has lasting effects more than the occasional high.

Signs of GHB Overdose

The risk of overdose from using GHB is high, especially if the substance is used with alcohol and drugs that cause central nervous system depression. A person who has taken too much of the drug may experience the following symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Inability to stand
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory loss
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Sweating and vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Unconsciousness

Overdosing on GHB can lead to seizures, stroke, or cardiac arrest. Anyone who experiences the effects mentioned above should be provided with emergency care.

Symptoms of GHB Addiction

GHB is a drug that causes physical dependence, and the euphoric state and heightened sensuality it induces can prompt a psychological addiction to the substance. Over time, regular consumers of GHB may develop a substance use disorder. According to the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorder (DSM-5), an individual may have substance use disorder if they exhibit at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Using GHB for longer than intended or consuming larger amounts of the substance
  • Attempting to cut down or reduce the use of GHB and failing to do so
  • Spending a lot of time acquiring GHB, using it, or recovering from its effects
  • Experiencing intense cravings to use GHB
  • Inability to manage responsibilities because of GHB use
  • Continuing the use of GHB even though it causes relationship problems
  • Prioritizing the use of GHB over important activities
  • Continuing to use GHB even when it puts you in danger
  • Continuing to use GHB even though it can cause or worsen physical of psychological problems
  • Developing tolerance or needing higher doses of GHB to attain the desired effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon stopping the use of GHB

GHB Withdrawal Symptoms

Habitual GHB use can cause some withdrawal symptoms to manifest in individuals. These are often both painful and dangerous for the person. Some of these withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Psychotic thoughts
  • Tremors

Moreover, since the body breaks down GHB quickly, withdrawal symptoms may appear again within 1 to 6 hours from the last dose, and they can continue to manifest months later.

Developing withdrawal symptoms typically means you have developed a dependence on the drug, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve also become addicted to it. Addiction is a chronic dysfunction of the brain characterized by a continuing pattern of drug use despite its negative consequences. Nevertheless, when you’ve become dependent on the drug, it is important to seek help from a medical detox facility that can guide you in developing the right strategies for gradually stopping use of the drug and removing it from your system.

GHB Detox

Detoxification refers to the process of eliminating toxins from the body, and this can be an uncomfortable period for people with substance use disorders. Signing up for a GHB detoxification program will enable you to go through this process in a safer and more comfortable manner. During this time, you’ll be under the care and supervision of medical professionals who can prescribe you with symptomatic medication and other treatment modalities that will lessen the intensity of the common withdrawal symptoms of GHB. You will also be given a tapering schedule, and its goal is to gradually reduce your intake of the GHB until you can function without the drug and be able to stop using it without causing acute withdrawal symptoms to manifest.

Getting Treatment for GHB Addiction

Recovering from GHB addiction can be a long process, especially among those who have habitually used the substance. You can sign up with an addiction treatment program that will help you improve your chances of overcoming your substance use disorder and regaining control over your life. The right treatment facility will help you find the program that matches your specific needs and provide you with a safe environment for treating your condition. Patients who are recovering from GHB addiction typically have the option to go through an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.

  • Inpatient GHB addiction treatment program: An inpatient treatment program will require you to stay in an inhouse facility, and it’s often recommended to patients who have moderate to severe cases of addiction or those who have a history of non-compliance with treatment programs. Living in a dedicated facility will ensure that you are able to attend all your treatment sessions and avoid substance abuse triggers that may be found in your home or neighborhood.
  • Outpatient GHB addiction treatment program: Recommended for patients with mild symptoms, an outpatient treatment program will enable you to continue fulfilling your responsibilities at home or in the workplace. However, you will also be required to attend treatment sessions for a set amount of time in the facility assigned to you.

Find the Help You Need Today

Quitting use of a drug such as GHB can feel like a constant uphill battle, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Recovering from substance use disorder becomes significantly more achievable with the support of loved ones and the right professional help.

Better Addiction Care is here to help you achieve that goal. We can assist you in finding the best rehab centers in your locality, and we can also guide you in verifying your insurance status and looking for financing options if you don’t currently have insurance. Get in touch with our recovery support advisors by calling (800) 429-7690, and get started on finding the right treatment facility that best suits your needs. Take the first step toward your recovery today!

GHB’s Origins and History

The family of compounds that GHB belongs to was first synthesized in the late 19th century, but its widespread use did not start until much later. In the 1960s, GHB was used as an anesthetic for childbirth in different parts of Europe, including France and Italy. In the 1970s, the scientific community began studying the potential use of GHB in treating hypersomnia and narcolepsy-associated cataplexy.

In the 1980s, GHB became increasingly popular when it was made available to the masses. It was marketed as a muscle developer, fat burner, and growth hormone enhancer. At that time, the drug could be purchased without prescription in health food stores and other health establishments.

Soon after, the harmful effects of GHB came to light. Several cases of GHB-related poisoning sprung up, affecting at least 100 people. In response to these cases, the Food and Drug Administration declared GHB unsafe and illegal, except for FDA-approved applications. In October 1996, Congress passed the “Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act,” which increased federal penalties for using controlled substances to assist in sexual assault. This legislation ultimately led to the classification of GHB as a Schedule I drug at the turn of the millenium.


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