OFFICIAL NAMES: Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), 4-hydroxy butyrate, gamma hydrate, gamma-hydroxybutyrate sodium, gamma hydroxybutyric acid, gamma-OH, sodium oxybate, sodium oxybutyrate
STREET NAMES: Blue Nitro, cherry meth, easy lay, energy drink, everclear, firewater, G, gamma-oh, Georgia home boy, gjuice, goop, grievous bodily harm, growth hormone booster, insom-X, invigorate, lemon fX drops, liquid ecstasy, liquid E, liquid X, longevity, nature's Quaalude, orange fX rush, oxysleep, poor man's heroin, remforce, Revivarant, salty dog, salty water, scoop, soap, somatomax, vita-G, water, wolfies, zonked
DRUG CLASSIFICATIONS: Schedule I, depressant
An odorless, colorless substance, GHB is a fast-acting central nervous system depressant. Sometimes it has a salty taste, while at other times it may be perceived as having no taste at all. Depending on the dose, effects of GHB can range from euphoria (feeling of well being; giddiness), intoxication, muscle relaxation, and hallucinations, to dizziness, nausea, vomiting, respiratory depression (slowed breathing), seizures, confusion, drowsiness, unconsciousness, coma, and even death. GHB may also cause memory loss of events that follow ingestion. The effects of GHB can be felt within 15 to 30 minutes after ingestion and typically last three to six hours.
GHB was first developed in 1960 as an alternative anesthetic (painkiller) for use in surgery because of its ability to induce sleep and reversible coma. But it had little effectiveness as a painkiller, and the coma that it caused was often associated with seizure activity, including jerking movements of the limbs or face.
Then, in the 1980s, GHB was endorsed by the health food industry as a growth hormone stimulator, and was marketed and sold to help body builders increase muscle mass and maintain weight. But, also, GHB was embraced as an aid in weight loss and as an over-the-counter sleep agent because of its sedative side effects.
In response to several accounts of adverse reactions in people taking nutritional and weight loss supplements containing GHB, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the drug in 1990. In doing so, the agency declared GHB unsafe and illegal for use except under FDA-approved, physician-supervised treatment protocols. In 1997, the FDA reissued its warning on GHB as an unapproved and potentially dangerous, illegal drug in the United States. In March 2000, GHB was placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This designation labeled GHB as having a high potential for abuse and raised the issue that the drug was potentially unsafe for use even under medical supervision.
Despite these actions, however, GHB continues to be illegally manufactured and sold. GHB, and kits for making GHB, are available on the Internet and on the steroid black market. It is possible to make the drug without sophisticated laboratory equipment. Because of such ease of access, GHB is usually made in a home kitchen and sold locally on the street. The product may be disguised by adding food coloring or flavorings, or by storing it in bottles labeled as other products such as mouthwash or spring water. Storage in water bottles is especially dangerous, because someone might assume the content is plain water and instead drink a large dose of GHB.
Because production is not regulated, the amount of GHB in a dose—typically one level teaspoon—can vary dramatically from 0.5 to 5 grams. Users may ingest many doses while attempting to attain desired effects.
The risk of overdose with GHB is high as the drug is unpredictable; individual reaction to GHB is also highly varied. At higher doses, GHB has become the most deadly of the club drugs, according to government statistics. Overdoses usually require emergency room treatment, sometimes including intensive care for respiratory depression and coma.
Use as a club drug
Despite the fact that it was made illegal in 1990, GHB became a common club drug (drugs used at late-night dance parties or so-called raves or trances, concerts, nightclubs, and bars). In these settings, GHB became commonly known as a euphoriant, and its popularity grew, especially in light of its easy access and low cost. When actor River Phoenix died outside a nightclub in Los Angeles in October 1993, it was suggested that he had overdosed on GHB. While the rumor was never confirmed, it further stimulated interest in GHB.
Common club drugs include other synthetic drugs: MDMA (ecstasy), ketamine (Special K, vitamin K, Kit Kat, Keller, super acid, and super C), and Rohypnol (chemical name is flunitrazepam; also known as roofies, forget pills, the drop drug, rope, LaRocha, ropies, Mexican valium, roachies, ruffles, wolfies, and rophies).
Recreational users of GHB claim that inhibitions are lowered, sex drive increases, and a euphoric, out-of-body high is experienced. Some people who use GHB consider it a weaker alternative to hallucinogens, LSD, and PCP. Others use GHB after taking ecstasy to counteract the stimulant effect. But even those who use GHB recreationally say that its unpredictable effects can sometimes overwhelm them and cause negative reactions, especially when taken at higher doses.
GHB is usually sold by the capful, or "swig," for $5 to $25. It is generally found in liquid form, but may be found in a highly soluble powder form. Either way, it is typically added to a liquid such as water, sports drinks like Gatorade, or soft drinks. Mixing the drug with a sweetened drink can mask GHB's salty taste. GHB is also mixed into an alcoholic drink, which enhances its effects but increases the potential for adverse reaction, particularly respiratory distress. The use of alcohol is typical if date rape is intended, as the victim is usually unaware that GHB has been added to the drink.
Use as a date rape drug
Several cases have documented the use of GHB to incapacitate victims of sexual assault. Along with another club drug, Rohypnol (known most commonly as roofies), GHB is often called a date rape drug. Both Rohypnol and GHB have been implicated in date rape cases.
In higher doses, GHB has powerful tranquilizing effects that can cause a person to pass out. It makes that person more vulnerable to attack by incapacitating him or her. Even though GHB has a slightly salty taste, it can go undetected when mixed into a drink.
Between 1996 and 2001, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) received reports of at least 15 sexual assault cases believed to involve GHB. Prosecuting rape cases that may involve GHB are particularly difficult because the drug causes memory loss in the victim, an effect called retrograde amnesia. GHB also moves so quickly through the body that it often is not detectable in blood or urine tests by the time the person arrives at a hospital.
In 1996, the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act made it a felony to give an unsuspecting person a date rape drug with the intent of committing violence, including rape. There are penalties of large fines and up to 20 years in prison for importing or distributing these drugs. Regardless of this law, however, GHB continues to be favored as a date rape drug. As reported by authorities, date rape cases involving GHB are on the rise.
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