Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, 4-hydroxybutanoic acid, or GHB is a naturally-occurring substance found in the central nervous system, wine, beef, small citrus fruits, and almost all animals in small amounts. It is also a neuroprotective therapeutic nutrient that is categorized as an illegal drug in many countries. It is currently regulated in the US and sold by Jazz Pharmaceuticals under the name Xyrem to treat cataplexy and excessive daytime sleepiness in patients with narcolepsy.
Historically, GHB has been used in a medical setting as a general anesthetic, to treat conditions such as insomnia, clinical depression, narcolepsy, and alcoholism, and to improve athletic performance. It is also used as an intoxicant (illegally in many jurisdictions) or as a date rape drug. GHB is naturally produced in the human body’s cells and is structurally related to the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate. As a supplement/drug, it is used most commonly in the form of a salt. GHB is also produced as a result of fermentation, and so is found in small quantities in some beers and wines. Succinic semialdehyde dehydrogenase deficiency is a disease which causes GHB to accumulate in the blood, producing similar effects to GHB.
In powder form, measuring a dose is fairly straightforward. In liquid form, GHB comes in a wide variety of concentrations with a single dose ranging from a few drops to a full glass. Body builders have been known to abuse GHB to stimulate muscle growth. The drug is also commonly abused as a recreational drug, particularly among partygoers on the club scene.
At lower doses, GHB can relieve anxiety and produce relaxation. Combining use with other drugs such as alcohol can result in nausea, loss of muscle control and difficulty breathing. GHB may also produce withdrawal effects, including insomnia, anxiety, tremors, and sweating.
As the dose increases, the sedative effects may result in sleep and eventual coma or death. Other effects include difficulty thinking, hallucinations, slurred speech, headaches and amnesia. GHB has reportedly been used in cases of date rape. Because GHB is odorless and tasteless, it can be slipped into someone’s drink without detection.