Although GHB is by no means a commonly abused drug, it seems to be making a comeback in the party and nightlife scene, putting users at risk due to its harmful effects and potential for overdose.
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The death of “Storm Chasers” reality TV star Joel Taylor in January of 2018 has sparked recent conversation about the club drug. News articles cited passenger claims that Taylor reportedly ingested a large quantity of the club drug GHB before collapsing on the dancefloor while aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise.1,2
GHB is by no means one of the more commonly abused drugs, but in light of Taylor’s recent overdose death and recent media reports about the drug regaining popularity, GHB may be making a comeback after all.
What Is GHB?
According to the DEA, Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) is another name for a generic drug called sodium oxybate which is an FDA-approved prescription medication.3 It is an anti-sleep medication that can be used to treat narcolepsy, but users need a prescription to take it legally. It has also been used as a general anesthetic.4 GHB is a Schedule I controlled substance and carries a high risk for abuse due to its euphoric effects.
Although trace amounts of GHB are naturally produced in the body’s central nervous system, some people abuse this drug to produce stronger effects, similar to that of alcohol, that can last anywhere from three to six hours. GHB is also known as a designer drug and is sometimes produced in illicit laboratories in liquid, powder, or tablet form. Some common street names for GHB are:
- Liquid Ecstasy
- Liquid X
- Easy Lay
Back in the 1990s, GHB was popular among teens and young adults. It was referred to as the “date rape drug” because the liquid is virtually odorless and colorless and can be easily slipped into drinks undetected. Today, GHB analog are often sold illegally as bodybuilding supplements, cleverly advertised as fat-loss agents. They may also be marketed as products that reverse baldness, improve eyesight, or combat common issues like aging, depression, drug addiction, and insomnia.3
The GHB analog GBL and BD are also sold illegally and marketed as household products like fish tank cleaner, ink cartridge cleaner, or nail enamel remover.
What are the Physical Effects and Dangers of GHB?
The side effects of GHB can be extremely dangerous, especially if it is used with alcohol or other central nervous depressants. Low doses of the drug can cause nausea, but higher doses produce physical effects that are very similar to those of alcohol. They may include:5
- Vision problems
- Slowed breathing
- Loss of consciousness
Long-term abuse of GHB can result in dependence and addiction and withdrawal may produce the following physical effects:3
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Psychotic thoughts
Some GHB analog can also cause skin and eye irritation, incontinence, seizures, liver damage, kidney failure, respiratory depression, and death.
These effects of GHB are fast-acting and can usually be felt within 15 to 30 minutes of taking the drug. Due to its effects and high risk for abuse, overdose is a very real risk and can be deadly.
Why Are More People Abusing GHB?
Despite its dangerous effects and risk for overdose, 1,191 people reported abusing GHB in 2015. The majority of those individuals were 26-years-old or older.6 Although this number is low in comparison to other frequently abused illicit drugs, several media outlets have reported an increase in the drug’s popularity.7,8,9
According to an article published by the Daily Beast, GHB popularity initially declined in 2001 after it was classified as a Schedule I substance. Since then, the drug has regained some of its popularity (particularly among party-goers and fitness gurus) for several reasons.
- It produces a “responsible high” – For clubbers and rave-goers, GHB may be appealing because it offers an intense high with less of a hangover than alcohol, MDMA, or cocaine. The quicker recovery makes it easier to continue partying with little consequence. Some users even call it a “responsible high.”7
- It can go undetected – GHB is also very difficult for police to detect and leaves the bloodstream within a few hours. This makes it easy for people to achieve the high they’re after without failing regular drug tests required for work, rehab, or sober living programs.9 Unfortunately, this also means that many GHB overdose deaths may also go undetected. For example, a new study revealed that London GHB overdose deaths between 2014 and 2015 more than doubled.10 But since GHB is not regularly picked up by general toxicology screens, the true number of overdoses could be even higher.
- It promises physical benefits – Fitness addicts may also be more likely to fall into a lifestyle of dependence and addiction, as many bodybuilders claim the drug burns fat, increases the production of human growth hormone (HGH) and promotes higher-quality sleep.9
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 16,000 people have overdosed on GHB and 70 have died since 1990.9 Although this is not nearly as many deaths and overdoses as other depressants like alcohol, the reality of the GHB problem may simply be underreported due to its difficulty to detect.
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Can GHB Detox Help Someone Who Is Addicted?
GHB dependence and addiction should be an immediate cause for concern, as GHB abuse comes with very serious consequences. If you or a loved one is abusing GHB, a medically-assisted GHB detox program is the safest and most comfortable way to get sober.
A GHB detox program at a medical detox center will provide a team of clinical and medical professionals who are trained to recognize and treat the symptoms of drug withdrawal. Depending on your drug abuse history and habits, your treatment team at Briarwood will design a personalized detox program that will help you gradually transition into a state of sobriety.
Unlike attempting GHB detox at home, a medically-assisted program provides all the support you need to get sober for good. At Briarwood, you’ll be monitored 24/7, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in individual and group therapy (as you are physically able), and you’ll be given individual recommendations for ongoing treatment to resolve the underlying issues of your addiction.