Not as popular as it was during the 1990s and early 2000s, GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), is a substance that is found naturally occurring in the human body. Initially marketed as an over-the-counter dietary substance, its serious and sometimes fatal side effects have led to its being categorized as a Schedule III Controlled Substance. Sometimes used as a “date rape drug,” it was outlawed in 2000 by the Date Rape Drug Prohibition Act. GHB is still prescribed for use in narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.
Why Take GHB?
Internet sales of illegal GHB continue. During its initial and legal use, GHB was taken by body builders and weight loss advocates who eventually began to abuse the substance. Some reported that it enhanced their sexual arousal. Combined with L-tryptophan, it became a popular sleep aid. GHB works on the brain to produce relaxation and induce sleep. Some users claim it provides pain relief as well. Some medical uses of the drug include treatment for pain and fatigue in fibromyalgia and treatment for those in withdrawal from sedatives, opioids or alcohol.
Effects of GHB
Problems were first seen in individuals who had heavily used or abused GHB and were showing the early stages of withdrawal. Heavy use constituted prolonged daily use of the drug, up to three times per day. Withdrawal symptoms were alarming, with many users showing up in emergency rooms during the early 2000s with severe agitation, along with delirium and psychotic effects. Most patients required restraints before medical professionals could treat them. These symptoms included severe audio and visual hallucinations that lasted for up to 15 days. Heart palpitations and increased heart rate were common symptoms as well. Some nausea, vomiting and diarrhea were experienced by users who were undergoing withdrawals. There were several deaths attributed to GHB withdrawal.
Withdrawing from GHB
The early stages of withdrawal from GHB are less severe, beginning with mild irritation, tremors, insomnia and agitation. There may be some occurrence of nausea as well. These symptoms may appear very quickly after the last dose of GHB is ingested. The more severe symptoms develop over the next several hours and can continue for a period of five days to two weeks. One instance of death occurred 13 days after the user’s last dose.
Some symptoms can do permanent damage to the heart and brain of the user. There are reported incidents of continuing hallucinations and psychotic episodes after stopping chronic use of GHB. Severe side effects are also seen when GHB is combined with alcohol or other nervous system depressants.