Rutgers logo
School of Public Health
Rutgers logo
School of Public Health
Students entering and exiting bus.


Substance Use: GHB

Accordion Content

  • Within a person’s body, GHB exists as a precursor to the neurotransmitter GABA, which is responsible for regulating consciousness, physical activity, and sleep. GABA also protects cells found in organs from oxygen starvation. When GHB is introduced into the body recreationally, it is thought to have an effect on the GABAB receptors by imitating GABA. The subsequent response involves the release of neurosteroids, which act as natural sedatives.

    It is presumed that the GHB receptor, when activated solely, actually releases stimulatory chemicals into the body promoting wakefulness. However, once a threshold amount of GHB is reached, the effects of the GABA receptor take over and induce sleepiness.

    Therefore, low doses of GHB reduce consciousness inducing a state of euphoria, intoxication, and increased social abilities, which makes it commonly used in the club/rave scene. At higher doses, however, it can cause nausea, seizures, convulsions, vomiting, dizziness, depressed breathing, unconsciousness, amnesia, visual disturbances, coma, and death. The effects usually last anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours and all are dose dependent.

    In liquid form, the actual concentration of GHB is usually unknown. Consequently, proper dosing proves difficult. Deaths are rare from GHB alone, however, and the most severe effects result when GHB is mixed with another depressant, such as alcohol, barbiturates, or Valium. High doses of GHB may lead to suppression of the breathing center in the brain, causing death, but typically, a person would fall unconscious before they could administer the lethal dose needed to stop respiratory activity.

    Occasional users of GHB are not likely to become addicted. However, chronic users, especially those who use the drug daily as a sleep aid or anti-depressant, develop a dependence of the drug due to their regular, frequent pattern of use. Withdrawal generally includes hallucinations, anxiety, tremors, insomnia, chest pain, external stimuli sensitivity, mental dullness, and depression. Whether or not chronic GHB use causes permanent damage to the body is unknown due to the inconclusive or limited research.

  • In the early 1960s, Dr. Henri Laborit synthesized GHB for use in studying the neurotransmitter GABA. As long as the drug was kept in the safe dose range and free of mixture with other CNS depressants, the drug appeared to have a wide range of potential uses with minimal side effects. It also showed promise as an anesthetic. GHB was soon rejected by the American medical community as the problems associated with the drug came to light. It again resurfaced in 1987 as a treatment for narcolepsy/cataplexy. At the same time, bodybuilders took up the drug due to its reputation for enhancing the release of growth hormone during sleep. However, in 1990, due to the growing number of overdoses, GHB was ordered off the shelves. Currently, GHB and its analogs like BD, which are more accessible, are known for their qualities as "date rape" drugs and recreational club drugs. GHB is still occasionally used for medical purposes, including treatment of narcolepsy, fibromyalgia, and alcohol and opioid withdrawal.

  • GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyric Acid) is a member of the psychoactive drug family known as depressants. Naturally, GHB exists as one of the chemicals found in the central nervous system and organs such as the heart, kidneys, liver and bones. Sold on the street as a clear, odorless, slightly salty liquid comprised of GHB salt dissolved in water, synthetic GHB may take the form of a white powder tablet/capsule or, more commonly, remain in its liquid form. It is familiarly referred to as "G," "liquid x," "Fantasy," "caps," "Georgia home boy," and "grievous bodily harm" (due to its role as a date-rape drug). Similar to GHB are GBL and butanediol, which are equally dangerous to the body since they are metabolized to GHB during digestion. GHB can be synthetically produced from these two analogs, the first being found in paint stripper and the second as a chemical used in the production of adhesives and plastics.

  • GHB is ingested as a salt dissolved in water. The dosage, due to different concentrations of GHB salt in water, is often difficult to determine. Half a teaspoon with no effect one time could be an overdose the next depending on the concentration of the drug you are taking. According to, the safest way to use an unknown concentration of GHB is to take half a teaspoon full and then wait at least an hour before administering more. Some users take GHB at regular intervals throughout the day while others engage in round the clock "sipping," which involves drinking periodically from a bottle of diluted drug. The latter method may result in mini-overdoses throughout the "sipping" period. It usually takes ten minutes to an hour to feel the effects of GHB. The main effects last 2-3 hours with some residuals remaining up to an entire day. It may take up to 2 hours to feel the full affect of the drug. Beware of overdosing in the meantime.

  • Alcohol (or any other depressants): Extremely dangerous. May lead to respiratory failure and death. It is strongly advised to NEVER MIX THESE TWO.

    Ketamine: potentially deadly

    Antihistamines: potentially deadly

    Pain Medications: potentially deadly

  • Call an ambulance immediately and lay the person on their side to avoid choking if they vomit. Make sure their air passage is clear.

  • An increasing number of GHB overdoses are occurring within the gay/bisexual community. Within the gay community, it is primarily used as a euphoric club drug at circuit parties, dance clubs, or raves, or for its supposed muscle-building capabilities. Like alcohol, GHB lowers inhibitions, often resulting in regrettable, unsafe sexual activity. GHB also incites spontaneous erections, which may lead to unexpected sexual experiences. This facet is one of the reasons it is found desirable in the gay party scene. Club drugs, however, prove to be one of the greatest limiting factors in engaging in safe sex. When sex is unsafe, the potential for spreading AIDS and STI’s increases greatly. Just have condoms and lube easily accessible and prepare well for the night ahead.

    For information about treatment and resources for help with an addiction please check out our resources pages.