The use of drugs on the club or party scene is on the rise, with a number of new and old drugs used by people who want to enhance the party experience. A variety of drugs are chosen for this purpose, ranging from stimulants to depressants, as well as hallucinogens.
GHB is a relatively new drug that has become part of this phenomenon. A neural system sedative, this drug is often used to experience a relaxing of inhibition, calming of anxiety, and euphoria. In particular, it has also been used as a “rape drug” – a compound slipped into someone else’s beverage or mixed with other drugs to facilitate sexual assault on that person.
Like many club drugs, GHB can be dangerous for a number of reasons. In particular, the potential for abuse of and addiction to this drug is high, making it important to understand how GHB works and how to recognize GHB addiction.
History and Use of GHB
As described by the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), GHB – which is also known by the full name gamma-hydroxybutyrate and the street names G, grievous bodily harm, liquid ecstasy, and goop – was originally synthesized in the 1960s, based on a chemical that naturally occurs in the brain. Over the next couple of decades, it was tested for various medical purposes, including for treatment of narcolepsy and anesthesia support; however, it was not highly successful medically, and attempts to use it for medical purposes diminished quickly.
In the 1980s, it was marketed as a supplement for bodybuilding and weight loss. However, the FDA banned it because it had never been approved for human consumption, and a number of cases of physical harm based on use of the drug were reported. GHB is now classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is considered to be a dangerous, addictive drug with no known medical benefit.
In the meantime, however, the drug began to be used for recreational purposes, as well as for sexual assault, because of the way it can suppress a person’s ability to resist an attack; when combined with alcohol, it can also result in blackouts and loss of consciousness. It is used by dissolving the white powder in liquids and drinking it, which makes it easy for a perpetrator to slip into a drink.
How GHB Affects the Body
A study from Behavioral Pharmacology indicates that GHB is likely to affect a large number of brain chemicals, including GABA, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Its action suppresses the chemicals that provide communication across neural cells, resulting in the slowing of mental and physical processes that create a sense of relaxation, wellbeing, drowsiness, and dizziness. These processes can also result in the person feeling a sense of euphoria, which is one of the main reasons people take this drug recreationally.
GHB’s action is fairly quick when consumed, with effects being felt within about 20 minutes of ingestion. With a half-life of about 30 minutes, it produces a brief, intense high that can result in loss of consciousness or memory blackouts. High doses can also result in the person who has ingested it having delayed muscular response, making it difficult to move. All of these factors make it popular for attempts at sexual assault.
Prevalence of GHB Abuse
According to the website Drugs.com, GHB seems to be particularly popular with young people and people on the club scene.
The Monitoring the Future Survey of 2012 found that GHB use was about 0.6 percent for 8th and 10th graders, and 1.4 percent for students in 12th grade. This represents a drop from the 2004 high point of 2 percent for 12th graders.
According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, GHB is well known as a party, club, or “rave” drug, used to enhance the party experience through its euphoric and sometimes trancelike effects. However, there is little specific data on the number of people who use this as compared to other club drugs. The National Drug Intelligence Center considers it to be a relatively low risk for major increases in numbers of users, due to the challenge of obtaining it. On the other hand, it is relatively easy to make the drug at home, so diversion and other sources for the drug are not always necessary.
As described multiple times above, GHB is also often used to facilitate sexual assault. The people who use it this way do not ingest it themselves, but instead give it to the target of the assault. This can result in a person receiving a high, dangerous dose of GHB without knowing it. If this happens, it is important to seek medical help to avoid the potential for serious risks, including overdose.
Signs Someone Is Abusing GHB
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, short-term health effects and symptoms of GHB use include:
- Drowsiness or lethargy
- Slowed cardiovascular and breathing responses
- Lowered body temperature
- Blackouts or memory loss
- Unconsciousness, coma, and even death
If chronic abuse or addiction is present, these symptoms may be accompanied by behaviors that include:
- Lack of ability to perform daily tasks or keep up with responsibilities
- Change in friends
- Relationship issues or arguments
- Loss of interest in formerly enjoyed activities
- Engaging in risky behavior while using drugs
- Inability to control use or stop using the drug
- High level of focus on obtaining and using the drug
- Withdrawal symptoms if the drug is stopped, including cravings for continued use
These symptoms and behaviors, especially when multiple occur together, can be signs of a substance use disorder or addiction. If addiction to GHB is suspected, it can be vital to get help for the individual right away, as continued use can lead to overdose and death, or other physical and mental health risks. The full long-term effects of the drug are not known; prevention is the best way to avoid the risk of adverse effects later in life as well.
Treatment Options for GHB Abuse
Traditional and up-to-date, research-based addiction treatment has been shown to be effective in helping with GHB abuse or addiction. Rehab programs that combine medical detox with behavioral therapies, support group or 12-Step programs, motivational support, and other types of counseling have been shown to help people who struggle with GHB abuse.
Through this type of treatment, it is possible for an individual who is abusing GHB or struggling with addiction to learn to manage cravings, substitute non-drug-use behaviors when triggers are encountered, and maintain sobriety for the long-term, putting the person on the path to recovery and securing a brighter future without use of the drug.