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GHB

What Is GHB?

GHB is short for gamma hydroxybutyrate. It's a drug that slows down some of the processes in the brain and central nervous system. GHB was originally used by bodybuilders, but it's now more common at dance clubs or raves because of the high it can create.

GHB is a synthetic (manmade) drug that's banned in the United States. That means whatever's available on the street was probably made in an underground lab or someone's kitchen. There's no way of knowing how strong it is or if it's been mixed with other harmful chemicals.

Most GHB is liquid, though it can come in pill or powder form. Liquid GHB has no smell and no color. When added to a drink, it can have no taste. Because GHB causes memory loss and drowsiness and is easily slipped into drinks, it's known as a "date rape" drug.

Short-Term Effects

GHB slows brain activity. Our brains produce a version of the chemical to regulate brain activity. In small amounts, the drug can relieve anxiety and help users relax. Low doses of GHB can cause drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, problems with memory and visual perception, and a feeling of being drunk.

Things get risky when people take higher doses of GHB or mix it with other drugs or alcohol. A dose that's too large can cause a drop in blood pressure and a slower heart rate. The person may become forgetful and confused. His or her breathing will slow down, possibly causing severe respiratory problems. People who take too much GHB may lose consciousness, have seizures, or slip into a coma. They could even die, seeming to fall into a deep sleep but never waking up.

The effects of GHB usually begin within 10 to 20 minutes of taking the drug and last for 4 hours or longer.

Long-Term Effects

People who regularly use GHB can, over time, develop a tolerance to the drug. They need larger and larger doses to get the same effects. This can lead to addiction. GHB users who try to give up the drug report withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, tremors, and sweating.

Many of GHB's long-term effects are still unknown, but some that are known are:

  • problems sleeping
  • breathing problems
  • depression and other mental health issues
  • memory problems

Other Possible Problems

Taking too much GHB or mixing it with other drugs or alcohol can lead to an overdose. When people take or are given an overdose of the drug, their heart and lung functions slow down so much that they pass out, slip into a coma, and can even die. People can fall unconscious within minutes and die in as little as an hour. An overdose of GHB is a serious medical emergency.

Unfortunately, GHB is easy to slip into someone's drink. If this happens, a person will feel weaker, be more open to suggestion, and be more vulnerable to assault. Because GHB causes confusion or memory loss, it can be difficult for a person given the drug to remember what happened. Watch out for friends when you're at parties, clubs, or raves, and ask them to keep an eye on you. If someone passes out, get him or her to a hospital right away.

Driving after you've taken GHB (or being in a car with a driver who has) is also very dangerous. The drug causes drowsiness and lack of focus.

GHB is an illegal drug listed as a Schedule I substance in the U.S. This means it has a high potential for abuse and serves no legitimate medical purpose (but is occasionally used to treat a rare form of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder). Possession or use of GHB is punishable by fines and jail time.

How Can Someone Quit?

GHB is hard to quit. People who are addicted to it can have withdrawal symptoms like tremors, anxiety, insomnia, sweating, and intense cravings for the drug. People who survived a GHB overdose might have even more severe reactions to quitting the drug, especially if the GHB was mixed with other drugs or alcohol.

If you think you might be addicted to taking GHB, it can help to talk with a counselor or join a support group. Going to a rehab facility or treatment center can make it easier to quit.

Avoiding GHB

Saying "no" if someone offers you GHB is one way to avoid the drug. But what if it's slipped into your drink? Avoiding GHB means staying aware of what's going on around you at parties, raves, or clubs. Never accept an open drink from a stranger, and always keep your drink with you so there's no chance for someone to slip something into it.

Date reviewed: February 2014

Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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