Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a powerful and fast-acting central nervous system depressant that is naturally present in the human body in small amounts. In the 1920s, synthetic GHB was developed for its anesthetic properties. In the 1980s, GHB became popular among body builders and athletes because of its ability to enhance performance and decrease body fat. In 1990 GHB and its analogs were listed as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act, rendering them illegal with no accepted medical use.
In liquid form, GHB is colorless and odorless and sold in capsules. Less commonly, it can be sold as a loose, white powder. Commonly used street names to refer to GHB include Georgia Home Boy, Grievous Bodily Harm, and Liquid X or Liquid Ecstasy.
GHB is popularly used as a recreational drug by teens and young adults at dance clubs or 'raves' because of its euphoric and sedative effects. In this context, GHB is used as an alternative to ecstasy or speed. It is also used by body builders due to its anabolic effects. GHB is also used by sexual predators to incapacitate their victims because of its anesthetic properties. Ingested orally, GHB is fast acting, with effects felt within 10-20 minutes and lasting three to six hours.
Research from Monitoring the Future indicates that GHB use has decreased among college students, starting from an annual prevalence rate of less than 1 percent (0.6) in 2002 when it was first measured to almost undetectable levels.
However, it is notable that prevalence estimates of GHB use by sexual predators are almost impossible to establish accurately. The drug is quickly metabolized and can go undetected by law enforcement or medical personnel unless victims seek immediate help. GHB can impair memory, rendering victims unaware that a sexual assault has occurred and therefore unlikely to seek medical attention.
In lower doses, GHB can lead to drowsiness, dizziness, feelings of intoxication, relaxed muscle tone, and reduced inhibitions. Its relaxant properties cause the heart rate and respiration to slow and can interfere with blood circulation, motor coordination, balance, and speech. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, loss of reflexes, tremors, delusions, seizures, and amnesia. The depressant effects of GHB are increased when mixed with alcohol or other drugs. Taken in higher amounts, GHB can cause unconsciousness, seizures, severe respiratory depression, and coma.
GHB can be addictive if used for prolonged periods. Chronic abusers who stop using GHB suddenly may experience withdrawal symptoms that include increased heart rate, hallucinations, sweating, insomnia, and seizures.
Because GHB is manufactured in clandestine laboratories, GHB users may be unaware of what they are ingesting. Ingredients can be substituted, or chemicals used in different concentrations, making its use particularly risky.
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