GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyrate)

GHB occurs naturally in the body and is also manufactured synthetically in laboratories. Though once used as a weight-loss drug and mild euphoric substance, GHB is most commonly used today in sexual assaults owing to its powerful anesthetic properties.

What Is GHB?

GHB, or by its scientific name Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (C4H8O3), is a form of naturally occurring anesthetic drug that can cause euphoria in very small doses and total blackout in stronger doses. The drug first gained popularity in the 1960s as a surgery anesthetic before being abused on the club scene in the 1980s, as well as a weight-loss supplement. The human body produces GHB naturally as well as it being found in trace amounts in wine, beer, and meat. A bottle of wine can contain between 4 and 21 mg of GHB. 

Today the substance is more commonly known as a date rape drug, like Rohypnol and ketamine, due to its prolific use in cases of drink spiking, sexual assault, and rape. The drug is frequently used by predators as the onset of effects of the drug are quick and victims tend to have poor to no memory events once the drug kicks in. The GHB liquid that is used in these cases often contains between 500mg and 3,000mg of the substance. Any use of GHB to inhibit another human being, in any amount and for whatever purpose, is considered a criminal act

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Is GHB a controlled substance?

The narcolepsy drug Xyrem contains GHB and has been approved for use by the FDA since 2002. It is a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Substance Act and is not widely available in most pharmacies. The illicit form of GHB that is used in most drugging assault cases is illegally manufactured and sold on the street.[1]

What does GHB look, smell, and taste like?

Illegal GHB most commonly comes in the form of a clear, odorless liquid and sometimes as a soluble powder. Both are almost completely undetectable when mixed in beverages such as alcoholic drinks and will have almost no taste at all.

What are the street names for GHB?

Common street names for GHB include:

  • Gamma Oh

  • Georgia Home Boy

  • Great Hormones at Bedtime

  • Grievous Bodily Harm

  • Growth Hormone Booster<

  • Liquid Ecstasy

  • Liquid X

  • Salty Water

  • Sleep

  • Vita G

Effects of GHB

Some people who abuse GHB in small doses say that the drug has a mildly euphoric effect with heightened energy. However, even in small doses, the drug can also cause loss of consciousness (blackouts), amnesia, hallucinations, and coma. This is one of the main reasons the drug is used in rape crimes as the victim loses the ability to function quickly and is rarely able to remember the events during a blackout clearly. In addition, the drug is metabolized through the system quickly, meaning it isn’t detectable in drug samples 24 hours after ingesting. 

Effects normally wear off after around 8 hours and most people report feeling like they have a heavy hangover afterward. Other common side effects of GHB include:

  • Clumsiness

  • Confusion

  • Exhaustion

  • Headache

  • Lower body temperature

  • Nausea/vomiting

  • Seizures

  • Sluggishness

  • Sweating

Warning signs of ingesting GHB

As GHB is odorless and colorless, it is often put into people's drinks in bars and clubs as means to incapacitate and take advantage of them by criminals. If sober, the effects of GHB will be more immediately apparent as the victim will feel disorientated or ill quickly. 

When combined with alcohol, even at low doses, GHB often causes nausea, sweating, and vomiting to occur. This may be hard to distinguish from the feeling of mild alcohol poisoning, especially if lots of alcohol has been consumed.[2]  

If you feel like you have been spiked then it is important to get somewhere safe immediately. Try and stay close to friends if possible or contact the emergency services if you’re alone. Do not attempt to get help from strangers or anyone you have just met. There is a chance that the person you are getting help from has given you the drug. Getting somewhere safe quickly is vital and you should always notify the authorities.

Read our full guide on GHB drink spiking and how long it lasts to find out more and keep your drinks safe.