Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), naturally occurs in the body as a neurochemical compound. It was first manufactured in 1960 and has been used in several countries as a general anaesthetic, and for treatment of some sleep disorders.
GHB is also known as ‘fantasy', ‘grievous bodily harm’ ('GBH'), ‘liquid ecstasy’ and ‘liquid E', but its effects are more similar to alcohol than E. It is classed as a depressant drug that contains sedative and, at sufficient doses, anaesthetic properties. Depressant drugs slow down the activity of the brain and other parts of the central nervous system. Alcohol, heroin and benzodiazepines are drugs that also have depressant effects.
GHB has also been used in ‘date rape drug’ incidents.
How it is used
GHB commonly comes as a colourless, odourless, bitter or salty-tasting liquid usually sold in small bottles or vials. It also comes as a crystal powder. It is mostly taken orally, however, there have been reports of people injecting the drug. Some media reports have suggested that GHB also comes in a bright blue liquid form ('blue nitro'), however, it is important to note that manufacturers can change the colour of GHB by adding a different colour food dye.
The effects of GHB appear to vary greatly according to the amount used - a small increase in amount can result in a dramatic increase in effect. One of the most dangerous aspects of using GHB is the small difference between an amount that produces the desired effect and the amount that results in overdose.
A further risk with GHB is that there is often no way to be sure that the drug is manufactured correctly. Improperly made GHB may result in an extremely toxic mixture of GHB and the chemical sodium hydroxide.
Generally, the effects of GHB are experienced within fifteen minutes after use and last for approximately three hours. Effects of lower amounts may include:
- sense of wellbeing
- induced sleep
- increased confidence, reduced inhibitions
- increased sociability
- enhanced sense of touch
In greater quantities
An increase in the amount or strength of GHB used, may result in the initial feelings of euphoria being replaced by effects including:
- extreme drowsiness/grogginess
- difficulty focussing eyes
- stiffening of muscles
- unconsciousness/abrupt short-term coma
- respiratory collapse
- amnesia (afterwards)
- impaired movement and speech
There has been little research conducted on the effects of long-term use of GHB. Apart from the potential to develop physical and psychological dependence, the health and social consequences of long-term use are largely unknown.
There appears to be a very fine line between the amount of GHB required to achieve the desired affect and that which leads to coma. Deaths have been associated with the use of GHB in the New Zealand. An added risk of overdose is that GHB can cause both unconsciousness and vomiting, which raises the risk of choking on vomit.
Many people find GHB to be a pleasant alcohol replacement. Unfortunately, because it is often kept as a clear liquid and even in drinking bottles, it is difficult to judge the concentration and accidental ingestions leading to overdose are common.
Dependence on GHB can be psychological or physical, or both.
A sign of psychological dependence is when the use of a drug becomes increasingly important in a person’s life; the drug use may take priority over other activities and responsibilities.
Physical dependence occurs when a person’s body becomes used to functioning with the drug present; if the person suddenly stops their drug use, withdrawal symptoms are experienced.
Although research to date has been limited, there have been reports that prolonged use of high doses of GHB may lead to withdrawal symptoms after abrupt cessation of GHB use. Symptoms may include agitation/anxiety, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, muscle cramping and tremors. Withdrawal symptoms may be experienced from three to twelve days before subsiding.
Many heavy users report being able to taper off their use to zero by reducing their intake slowly over a two week period.
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Like all drugs, GHB may have the potential to cause harm to the unborn child and also harm to the baby whilst breastfeeding. Due to this, it is recommended to not use any level of GHB during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding.
GHB and other related substances are classified as Class B drugs in New Zealand. The maximum penalty for importation/manufacture/supply is 14 years imprisonment, and for possession 3 months jail and/or a $500 fine.
It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of any drug, including GHB. Breaking this law carries heavy penalties including disqualification from driving, fines and even imprisonment. It is advised that you do not drive after the consumption of any mood altering substance. You could put your own and other people’s lives at serious risk.
For more information on GHB
call the alcohol drug helpline on
0800 787 797
free from your landline or mobile
10 am - 10 pm, 7 days a week