“G”, also known as gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), is a naturally-occuring central nervous system (CNS) depressant that is found in trace amounts in the body. Also known as sodium oxybate, it is used in the treatment of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterised by excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden attacks of sleep.
GHB is often abused as a recreational drug, typically taken orally in liquid form, although it can also be ingested as a powder or capsule. It is notorious for its euphoric and sedative effects, and is highly dangerous as it has a steep dose-effect curve. You may experience a calming sense of euphoria at 20 mg/kg and a higher euphoric sensation at 50 mg/kg, but 60 mg/kg can cause convulsions, respiratory depression, or put you in a coma.
Prolonged GHB use can lead to severe physical and psychological dependence.
Where does GHB come from
GHB was first synthesised in the laboratory in 1960 by the French surgeon, Henri Laborit. However, GHB that is commonly found on the streets and online are produced illegally in illicit laboratories. These forms of GHB have questionable purity and concentrations. You can never be sure of how much GHB you are taking, or if it is indeed GHB you’re taking. This puts you at great risk of overdose.
What GHB does to the brain
GHB is a CNS depressant, a type of drug that slows down the activity of the brain and the body. GHB produces feelings of calmness, drowsiness, and slows down your breathing and heart rate.
CNS depressants work by increasing the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain that promote relaxation and sleep. This leads to a reduction in the activity of the central nervous system, causing a range of effects, including drowsiness, decreased alertness, and slowed reflexes.
Researchers found that there’s a link between using GHB and changes in how people recognise negative emotions. These researchers also found that experiencing a GHB-induced coma was associated with lower intelligence and changes in how the brain processes information in long-term memory involving verbal information and working memory. However, the researchers did not find that just using GHB without experiencing a coma was linked to these changes.
Can GHB kill you
GHB causes coma or death by depressing the central nervous system, leading to a loss of consciousness and potentially fatal respiratory and cardiovascular depression.
In high doses, GHB can cause a rapid and profound loss of consciousness, which can quickly lead to coma or death if not treated promptly and effectively. Additionally, GHB can cause unpredictable and rapid changes in consciousness, which can lead to dangerous or deadly situations, such as choking, falls, or accidents.
GHB is particularly dangerous when used in combination with other drugs and alcohol which can enhance its toxicity.
Use of GHB during pregnancy
The use of GHB during pregnancy can be dangerous for both the mother and the developing foetus. GHB can cross the placenta and affect the central nervous system of the foetus, potentially leading to harm. Additionally, GHB use during pregnancy can cause complications such as preterm labour, low birth weight, and withdrawal symptoms in the newborn.
There is limited research on the specific effects of GHB use during pregnancy, but it is generally recommended that pregnant women avoid using GHB and other drugs, as the effects on the developing foetus can be unpredictable and potentially harmful.
Why is GHB banned
GHB is banned because it has a high potential for abuse. Although it was originally developed as an anaesthetic, it has since been used recreationally as a "party drug" because of its ability to induce euphoria, relaxation, and increased sociability.
GHB overdoses became increasingly common in the United States during the 1990s, leading to a significant increase in emergency department visits and poison control centre exposures related to it. GHB was classified as a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States in 2000, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
In response to these risks, Similar regulations have been put in place in many other countries, reflecting the widely held view that GHB is a dangerous and potentially deadly substance. It is illegal to manufacture, distribute, or possess GHB, and those who violate these laws can face significant penalties, including imprisonment and fines.
What to do if my loved ones are using GHB
It can be incredibly challenging when a loved one is struggling with substance-use-disorder. Some steps you can take to help them include:
- Seek medical help—If your loved one has taken GHB and is experiencing adverse physiological effects, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. GHB can cause rapid and profound changes in consciousness, and prompt medical intervention can be life-saving.
- Educate yourself—Learn as much as you can about GHB, its effects, and why people take it. This is so that you can understand what your loved one is going through and provide informed support.
- Offer support—Let them know that you care about them and you are there to support them. Encourage them to seek help and treatment for their substance use, and offer to accompany them to appointments or help them find resources.
- Seek professional help—Get the help of an addictions specialist or a therapist who specialises in addiction treatment. These professionals can provide you and your loved one with guidance and support in overcoming GHB use.
- Stay involved—Stay involved in your loved one's life and continue to offer support as they work towards recovery. This can be greatly challenging, but with an evidenced-based treatment strategy, it is possible to overcome GHB use and achieve sustained recovery.
Remember that addiction is a treatable condition, and there is hope for recovery. By seeking help and support, your loved one can overcome GHB use and reclaim their health and well-being.