Other Drugs


What is GHB?

GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is typically an odorless, colorless liquid, with a slightly salty taste. It is classified as a sedative and is in the same drug family as rohypnol and ketamine.

GHB is used as a general anesthetic in Europe. In the US, the FDA approved GHB for use in the treatment of narcolepsy (a sleep disorder) in 2002. This approval came with severe restrictions, including its use only for the treatment of narcolepsy and the requirement of a patient registry monitored by the FDA.

GHB is known as a predatory drug: it can be slipped into a victim's drink, causing dizziness, confusion, drowsiness and sometimes loss of consciousness. When GHB is combined with alcohol, it is especially dangerous because the combination of two depressants can lead to overdose.

GHB acts on at least two sites in the brain: a GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) receptor and a specific GHB binding site. Because GHB is a metabolite of the inhibitory transmitter GABA, it is found naturally in the brain but at concentrations much lower than doses that are abused.

What does GHB look like?

In its liquid form, GHB looks like water. It has no smell, and is tasteless or has a slightly salty or solvent taste that can be easily masked. It is usually sold as a liquid in small vials. GHB is also available as a white powder or capsule.


How do people use GHB?

GHB is generally taken in a liquid form, though it is sometimes found in powder, tablet, or capsules. Since in its liquid form the strength of GHB varies, and people's reactions to it vary, it is very easy to take a dangerous dose of this drug. The effects of the drug begin 10 to 20 minutes after taking it and last up to 4 hours. 

Short-term Effects

The way you feel when you take GHB is similar to the way some people feel when they drink alcohol. Users may feel more sociable, less inhibited and lightheaded or drowsy and dizzy. Users can experience nausea and vomiting, and a higher dose can slip into a deep sleep. An overdose can result in difficulty breathing, a lowered heart rate, convulsions and even death.

With GHB there is only a slight difference between a dose that produces the desired effects and a dose that puts the user at risk and the consequences can be fatal.

GHB can also cause confusion, unusual and disturbing thoughts and depression.


Long-term Effects

Overdosing on GHB can lead to profound coma, which may be neurotoxic to the brain, especially to the developing brain of a young adult. No long-term research has been done on GHB's impact on the brain yet, but because it's such a powerful sedative, it most likely affects the brain's memory and learning functions.

Why do people use GHB?

GHB can produce hallucinations and feelings of relaxation and euphoria. People who use GHB also report feeling increased energy, feeling affectionate and sociable, mild disinhibition and enhanced sexual experience. 

Is GHB dangerous and can you overdose?

Yes, GHB is dangerous in a number of ways.

Since GHB is illegal, there are no controls over the strength and purity of the drugs produced. What’s sold as GHB often contains unknown drugs or other fillers, which may be toxic. You don’t know how much GHB is in the solution or what dose is safe.

With GHB it’s easy to take too much, or overdose. Deaths have been reported. When GHB is taken with alcohol or other drugs, the effects are more intense, and the risk of toxic effects and overdose increases. GHB-related deaths usually involve other drugs, such as alcohol.

GHB is a potent sedative, causing users to lose consciousness and fall into a deep sleep from which they might not wake for several hours. They may vomit while they’re sleeping and choke. When in a GHB sleep, people may have trouble breathing and convulsions can occur. Users sometimes wake to discover that alarmed friends or family have rushed them to hospital for emergency care.

GHB’s liquid form allows it to be slipped into drinks, and its sedative effects prevent victims from resisting sexual assault. GHB can also cause amnesia, meaning that when people recover from the drug’s effects, they may not remember what happened.
GHB may interact dangerously with some medications, such as protease inhibitors used to treat HIV.

Driving after taking GHB is extremely dangerous because sleep may come on suddenly. Driving or operating machinery while under the influence of GHB, or any drug, increases the risk of physical injury to the user and to others.

How do I recognize a problem with GHB?

Some of the signs of problem use are:

  • You use it more frequently.

  • You need more and more to get the same effect.

  • You become preoccupied with using it.

  • You spend more money than you have on getting the drug.

  • You miss class, fail to complete assignments, or miss other obligations.

  • You make new friends who do it and neglect old friends who don't.

  • You find it's hard to be happy or to relax without it.

  • You have headaches or trouble sleeping without it.

If you find that you can't stop using GHB, remember, there's help available. 

Is GHB addictive?

Repeated use of GHB may lead to withdrawal effects, including insomnia, anxiety and tremors. Experiencing withdrawal is one of the signs of addiction. Treatment options remain limited. Because of the severity of withdrawal symptoms from GHB, it's imperative to have professional help when detoxing from GHB. Withdrawal can include delirium, disorientation, and hallucinations that may last up to two weeks. 

Is GHB illegal?

GHB use is legal only when it is prescribed to someone for the treatment of narcolepsy. Other types of possession, use, manufacture and sale carry heavy prison sentences and fines and disciplinary consequences at Brown. See the Brown University Policy on Drugs on the Student Rights and Responsibilities web site. 

How do I help a friend who's having trouble with drugs or alcohol?

If you are concerned about a friend's drug or alcohol use, this page contains information about different ways to help them. 


If you or a friend are having trouble with drugs or alcohol, or just have questions, there is help available.

Related Links

Project GHB, Inc.
This educational website provides information on the dangers of GHB, drugs that are similar to GHB and help for addiction.

Dance Safe is a harm-reduction web site centered on drugs found in nightclubs and raves. The site offers drug information, a risk assessment, ecstasy testing kits and e-news.

National Institute on Drug Abuse 
NIDA drug pages have research reports, statistics and information on addiction.

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