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GHB - Encyclopedia

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What is GHB?

GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) is a sedative used both as a sleep-aid and as a recreational intoxicant. It is known for its ability to induce a short (several hours) coma-like sleep at high doses.


GHB was first synthesized in the early 1960s by Dr Henri Laborit to use in studying the neurotransmitter GABA. It quickly found a wide range of uses due to its minimal side effects and controlled action, the only difficulties being the narrow safe dosage range and the dangers presented by its combination with alcohol and other CNS depressants.

Typically GHB has been synthesized from GBL (Gamma-butyrolactone) by adding sodium hydroxide (lye) in ethanol or water. As of late, GBL has become controlled and more circuitous routes have to be taken such as those starting with THF (tetrahydrofuran).


GHB is most commonly produced by combining gamma-butyrolactone and a strong base such as sodium hydroxide (lye). These two substances react chemically and form the unique chemical GHB.

Positive effects

The effects of GHB at recreational doses are physically quite similar to those of alcohol. At lower doses, effects include relaxation, reduction of social inhibitions, decreased motor skills, mood lift and other effects similar to mild alcohol intoxication. At higher recreational doses effects can include dizziness, difficulty focusing the eyes, positive mood changes, increased appreciation of music, dancing, and talking, slurring of speech, nausea, and grogginess.

It also renders a desire to connect emotionally with others. An ability to face things that were psychologically intimidating without the usual fight or flight symptoms. An increase in emotional courage. An increase in a feeling of oneness with other people. Emotional unclenching. A vast increase in emotional awareness and compassion.

Negative effects

The line between high recreational dose and overdose can be a narrow one. At the overdose level, individuals may experience extreme grogginess (nodding in and out of consciousness) or unconsciousness, extreme dizziness and disorientation, and vomiting. During higher overdoses (poisonings), users may experience unconsciousness, convulsions, vomiting, and potentially depressed breathing.

Medical use

GHB is one of the substances that are able to remove the desire to drink without producing the unpleasant reactions that come with drugs earlier known to be helpful against alcohol addiction.



One of the major concerns with GHB is that the recreational dosage range is narrow and even small overdoses can cause temporary unrousable unconsciousness (a type of coma) and large overdoses (poisonings) can be life-threatening.

A standard recreational dose of pure GHB powder is between 1 - 3 g, though some people use as much as 4-5 grams in a single dose: especially frequent users who have developed a tolerance. Unfortunately, GHB is most frequently found in a liquid form of widely variable concentration. 1 gram of GHB powder can be dissolved into as little as 1 ml of water (this makes 5 g per tsp) or a much greater volume and there is virtually no way to tell the concentration once it's in liquid form.

As with alcohol and many other substances, the onset of GHB will be affected by how much and how recently one has eaten. Generally, this will be between 10-20 minutes.
The primary effects of GHB last approximately 1 ½ hours. For many people, there is an additional period of time (1-2 hrs) of more subtle effects. Some recreational users consume GHB in a manner similar to alcohol, sipping it slowly over an evening rather than drinking a full dose all at once. In this case, the duration will be longer as the period of ingestion is stretched out over time.


Unfortunately, GHB has a few prominent problems which, in combination, can be quite dangerous. The difference between a recreational dose and a mild overdose (temporarily unrousable sleep) can be as little as 1-2 grams, the equivalent of a single dosage unit. Combining GHB with alcohol can lead to overdoses at even lower levels. Also, because GHB generally comes in liquid form and because the concentration of this liquid is difficult to determine, it is relatively common for people to accidentally take a larger dose of GHB than they think they are taking.

GHB also has a problem with the specific effects of an overdose. At higher overdose levels, GHB can produce both unconsciousness and vomiting. This can be an extremely dangerous combination. Vomiting while lying unconscious on one's back can lead to aspiration (inhalation) of the vomit which can cause suffocation and damage to the lungs.

The addiction potential of GHB is not well known, but from reports, it appears that GHB can be both physically addicting and mentally habituating for a small percentage of users.


Do not mix GHB with Alcohol. This can be an extremely dangerous combination. One drink or hit becomes 2 or more in effect.
Avoid mixing GHB with other depressants such as sleep aids and opiates.

Links / Further reading

Lyceaum on GHB


This article is based on the following pages:

Erowids GHB Vault
Wikipedia on GHB
Guidelines for the drug therapy of alcoholism

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