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GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate or 4-hydroxybutanoic acid), a central nervous system depressant, is a naturally occurring product of human metabolism. It’s found in tiny concentrations in some food and drink, like red wine and animal meat1. GHB is a complex drug: at higher doses it can give you a drowsy, euphoric high whereas at lower doses it can act as a stimulant. It goes by many different names, including liquid E or liquid X, but it’s a very different chemical to MDMA. When it’s dosed carefully, it brings feelings of euphoria, relaxation and increased libido but you have to be very careful; even just 0.5 mL can be the difference between a good time and having too much2.
It was first synthesised in 1874 by a Russian scientist. From the 1960s, it was used extensively in surgery and childbirth but eventually other, less dangerous medications came about and reduced its use. During the 90s, GHB became a popular recreational drug, being used in the party scene, in chemsex, by bodybuilders and as a “daterape” drug. By the 00’s, GHB was made a controlled substance to try and limit its use1. A few different chemicals often mis-sold as GHB which have very similar effects to GHB but are much stronger and start working much sooner meaning a much higher risk of overdosing (see common substitutes section below).
Alcohol, ketamine, benzos, tranquilisers, any drug that depresses your Central Nervous System will increase the likelihood of overdosing or going under.
Measure GHB using a pipette or syringe, and keep a note of the time you took the dose to help you with appropriate and safe redosing.
Keep track of doses
Since GHB has such a small window for dosage it can be useful to keep track with a pen on the back of your hand.
Common GHB substitutes
Sometimes the drugs we think we are buying turn out to be something very different. Knowing the common substitutes that dealers swap them for or adulterants they add in is an easy way to protect yourself and your friends.
GBL (γ-butyrolactone) and BD (1,4-butanediol) are often sold as GHB because they aren’t as easy to regulate, being legitimately sold as cleaning solvents. Both are much stronger than GHB. This makes it very dangerous to take the same dose of these as you would GHB. If you can't test your GHB to see if it could be GBL or BD, take a half or third dose and wait at least an hour before taking any more4.
GHB is sometimes thought to be similar to MDMA due to its name, “liquid ecstasy”. It is, however, a completely different chemical, with its own complex set of effects, dose ranges and interactions with other drugs.
Reference: 4. Drugs.ie
Effects of GHB
The effects from a given dose of GHB will vary depending on many factors such as your weight, gender, metabolism, and tolerance from previous use. GHB’s effects vary widely, with smaller doses being more stimulating and higher doses being more sedative. It’s best to start low and go slow. Read our section on dosing for more information.
Here you can find the most common effects of GHB; this list is not definitive, nor exhaustive. You may not experience all these effects, nor the same every time, and your friends around you may have a vastly different experience. Remember, the likelihood of experiencing negative effects is much greater at high doses.
The effects are (from positive to negative):
Increased sex drive
Lowered body temperature
Loss of inhibitions
Loss of consciousness
GHB overdose | Going under | G sleep
Taking too much GHB can be fatal, especially when you mix GHB with alcohol, other depressants like benzos or K, antihistamines, HIV medications and a few more.
Here’s what to look out for, both internal and external, so that you can tell if someone is overdosing. If anyone you’re with begins to display these signs, put them in the recovery position and call the emergency services immediately.
- Blackouts and memory loss
- Irregular or shallow breathing (less than 8 breaths per minute)
- Persistent unconsciousness, lasting for more than 2 hours
Dose and onset of GHB
How? How Much GHB? When? For how Long?
The way you consume GHB can vastly impact the experience. The same applies to the dose taken, and even then the effects of GHB will vary depending on many factors such as your weight, gender, metabolism, and tolerance from previous use. Read our section on dosing for more information.
ALWAYS carefully measure GHB using a pipette, syringe or scales, and keep a note of the time you took the dose to help you with appropriate and safe redosing. GHB is a powerful drug that can go wrong very easily. It’s essential to your safety that you know exactly how much you are taking.
There is no standard dosage, and it can be difficult to identify your ideal dose the first time you take GHB. It’s most commonly sold as a concentrated liquid but can be sold in other forms. It’s best to dilute GHB in water to make dosing easier and it will be very unpleasant to take if you don’t. There are can mere millimetres between a safe dose and a fatal dose. The best course of action is to start low and go slow.
Forms of GHB
Most common form. A concentrated liquid, odourless and colourless, must be further diluted.
Rarely seen, a white powder
How you take GHB matters...
Orally - drinking, swallowing pills
Works for liquid and powdered GHB. You should always dilute in water to help with dosage and reduce the likelihood of tissue damage.
Rectally - suppositories, shelving/boofing, booty bump
Works for liquid and powdered GHB. You should always dilute in water to help with dosage and reduce the likelihood of tissue damage.
Intravenously - injection
We strongly recommend avoiding injection, it can be very dangerous, but if you do still decide to inject, dilute the GHB, use clean equipment, and do not share needles.
How much GHB?
Dosing is crucial with GHB. Just a small amount too much can cause an overdose, especially if it might be GBL instead of GHB. Starting with a small, cautious dose is safest with this substance. Everybody's threshold is different, and bodyweight is a significant factor in the dose to effect ratio (if you weigh less, then your ideal dose is likely to be smaller).
GHB is most commonly sold as a concentrated liquid but can be sold in other forms. It’s best to dilute GHB in water to make dosing easier and it will be very unpleasant to take if you don’t. There’s no standard dosage, and it can be difficult to identify your ideal dose the first time you take it, so start low and go slow.
Low: 0.5-1g | 0.25ml
Medium (common): 1-2.5g | 0.5-1.5ml
High: 2-4g | >1.5ml
When do the effects of GHB kick in and for how long?
Onset: 5 - 20 minutes
Duration: 3 - 4 hours
After-effects/come-down: 1-3 hours after your last dose
Experienced: wait at least 90 minutes
Occasional: wait 2-2.5 hours
Beginner: wait 3 hours
References 1. NHS 4. Drugs.ie; 5.drugs.com ; 6.adf.org.au; 9. Trade Sexual Health; 10. Drugrehab.com; 11. Psychonaut Wiki; 12. DanceSafe; 13. Toronto Vibe; 14. Hilary Agro; 15. Erowid; 16. Broke-ass Stuart; 17. GDS; 18. WHO; 19. FridayMonday
How often can I take GHB?
Avoid frequent use. Regular use of GHB can lead to addiction and withdrawal. Avoid taking GHB for more than 2 days in a row.
Interactions of GHB
If there’s one thing that can really be dangerous, it’s mixing drugs. We’ve compiled here the safety profiles of various mixes with GHB (legal and illegal) but don’t swear by them. As with all matters drug-related, everyone is different and you can very easily experience an unexpected adverse reaction. If you’re taking medication, you need to be extremely wary when taking illegal drugs. Their interactions with prescribed medication are often poorly researched and you will definitely not be warned by your doctor about it.
GHB + ? =
Select a drug
Click one of the drugs below and see how it mixes with GHB.
Interactions with prescribed drugs:
GHB interacts dangerously with a lot of prescribed drugs. Particularly those prescribed for heart, breathing and mental health conditions20. Research about your prescriptions when combined with GHB before mixing them.
Harm Reduction for GHB
Drugs are dangerous. Really, we should just avoid them, that much is true. But if you are going to take GHB then there are certain precautions that can reduce that risk. We’ve separated these into tips for preparing yourself beforehand, taking care of yourself and others during, and ways to mitigate the after-effects once the GHB has worn out.
- Have a buddy. Have a trusted friend with you who knows what you’ve taken and can look out for you. If this is not possible, at least make sure to tell someone so that they can know to check in on you by text.
- Set and setting. Make sure that you’re in the right headspace before taking GHB. Choosing where you do it carefully is also paramount. Avoid unfamiliar places, especially if you’re not experienced.
- Clear up your place. GHB makes people clumsy so remove breakable objects, create a clear space, and use plastic bottles to make your life easier.
- Make sure you’ve eaten. Having an empty stomach increases your chances of overdosing or going under.
- Get accurate dosing equipment. A 2mL syringe is the most accurate but a pipette will also do.
- Mark bottles and syringes. Make sure anything with GHB in it is clearly labelled and mark your syringes with tape because GHB can erase ink.
- Avoid depressants. DO NOT mix GHB (and GBL) with alcohol, ketamine, benzodiazepines, tranquilisers, sleeping pills or any other depressants. They increase your risk of overdosing or going under.
- Measure your dose accurately. Use a small (2ml or less) syringe, this is the most accurate method. You can use a pipette if you don’t have a syringe, but make sure to leave enough time between your doses.
- Think about your stuff! A fanny pack, cloak room, or friend’s drawer are all good ways of losing your belongings.
- Safe sex. GHB increases sex drive, and plenty of people take it purely for this reason (find out more about what chemsex is). Make sure to practice safe, consensual sex with condoms.
- Keep time. Keep a note of the time you took your dose to refer to if you’re considering re-dosing. Having a watch is a good idea to avoid losing your phone.
- Dosing. Start low and go slow, see How much for more information. Do not redose within an hour of taking your last dose. GHB can quickly turn from good time to hospital time.
- Look out for overdose symptoms. If you do feel overly sleepy or concerned, tell a friend. Check the effects section for more info.
- Avoid frequent use. Regular use of GHB can lead to addiction and withdrawal. Avoid taking GHB for more than 2 days in a row.
- Watch out for withdrawal. Sudden GHB withdrawal can bring about severe and unpleasant symptoms, some of which can be life-altering or fatal. Visit our withdrawal section for more info.
- Get yourself tested. If you’ve had unprotected sex or cannot remember if you used protection, get tested for STIs to stay safe and healthy
- Eat well and rest. Get lots of sleep and eat nutritious foods to help your body recover
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol won’t ease your comedown, they’ll just mask the symptoms and drain your body more.
- Take a decent break. Giving your body time to fully replenish the bliss-inducing chemicals released by GHB can make your recovery easier.
Risks of GHB
As use of GHB became more prevalent, a picture emerged showing that GHB can be highly addictive. Studies have shown that frequent, heavy use over a few weeks can lead to a physical dependence. It’s unclear why some people will develop an addiction and others won’t, but there is a risk of addiction for anyone who takes GHB regularly.
Many people with a GHB addiction are unable to see that their habit has gone from controlled to excessive. The typical symptoms of GHB addiction listed below, if you notice these symptoms in yourself or a friend, help is needed.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Thinking about taking GHB regularly
- Taking GHB regularly, once every few days or daily
- Ignoring the negative side effects of GHB
- Making GHB use a priority
- Neglecting your family and friends, to take GHB
- You need more GHB to feel its effects
There’s no official or recommended method for treating a GHB addiction. However, if you’re planning on coming off GHB and you’ve been taking it for a while, it’s best to slowly reduce your GHB intake. Take a smaller dose less frequently each week until you’ve reduced your dose to zero. This is currently the safest way to quit GHB; NEVER quit cold-turkey because the withdrawal symptoms can be fatal.
Talk to your doctor about coming off GHB, they can often provide a good insight and point you towards the best support centres in your area. It’s also important to be honest with your family and friends about your addiction, if they don’t know how can they help you stay off GHB and support you in your recovery?
Taking GHB consistently then suddenly stopping can induce withdrawal. For some people, this can come on after just 7 days of persistent use. If you use GHB heavily for long periods of time, you MUST NOT quit cold-turkey. Your withdrawal symptoms will be more intense and can be life-threatening, see our section about GHB addiction if you’re planning to quit GHB.
Symptoms of withdrawal can come on a few hours to several days after the last dose of GHB and they usually last for 12 days but sometimes longer. Some people can continue to experience some withdrawal symptoms, like anxiety, depression and insomnia, for months or even years after their last dose of GHB.
- Elevated hr
- Elevated bp
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- Confusion and paranoia
- Lack of appetite
- Trouble concentrating
- Memory problems
- Increased sensitivity to touch and sound
- Elevated body temp
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Can lead to life-threatening side-effects for the child.
GHB can alter your heart rate in a way that can be life-threatening.
GHB can trigger seizures, especially in those that already suffer from epilepsy but also potentially in anyone who has ever had an epileptic fit.
Irregular blood pressure
GHB can alter your blood pressure in a way that can be life-threatening.
If you are having surgery in less than 2 weeks be careful. GHB can increase the effects of sedation and nerve-numbing medications, increasing the chance of complications during surgery.
AVOID if you suffer from major depression or have a history of depression.
GHB is a respiratory depressant and can slow your breathing rate to dangerously low levels.
How long will GHB stay in my system
The amount of time that GHB will be detectable in your system depends on a huge variety of factors, such as age, gender, BMI, frequency and volume of use etc, making it hard to determine this precisely. Urine and hair are the most common type of workplace testing.
Don’t trust “drug detox” kits, they are completely unregulated and will often encourage drinking large quantities of water, which can damage your kidneys. GHB is absorbed and broken down by your body very quickly. This means that, aside from in your hair, it isn’t detectable in your body for very long. The table below gives you some estimates, but it’s always best to be cautious.
Hair → Up to 1 month
Urine → 3 days
Saliva → 6 hours
Blood → 8 hours
The Law on GHB
GHB is a class C drug, making it illegal to possess purchase or sell.
GHB is prescription-only (listed in Anlage III of the BtMG).
GHB is banned and is on list 1 of the Opium Act. Producing, trading or possession is prohibited.
Decriminalized drug possession in quantities for personal use
GHB is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Illegal to possess purchase or sell.
GHB is listed as a schedule 1 drug. Illegal to possess purchase or sell.
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