GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a substance naturally present in the body. It acts as a depressant, slowing down the activity of the nervous system. It also calms the nervous system.
GHB can be prescribed in Canada for the treatment of narcolepsy (a serious sleep disorder). However, it can also be made in illicit labs and sold illegally.
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GHB (known as liquid ecstasy, G, grievous bodily harm, scoop and easy lay) is often called a date-rape drug. This is because its sedative effects prevent victims from resisting sexual assault.
In liquid form, GHB is odourless, colourless and tasteless. It can easily be slipped into other people's drinks without their noticing.
GHB can also come in the form of a powder or capsules.
The chemicals and processes used to make illegal GHB vary, so the drug's purity and strength are not predictable.
The effects of GHB are typically felt within 10 to 20 minutes following consumption and may last for up to 5 hours.
Short-term effects of GHB
GHB use can lead to short-term mental and physical effects.
The main mental effects on users may include feeling:
- relaxed, drowsy or sleepy
- happy, with a sense of well-being (euphoria)
- dizzy (this may last for several days)
- uninhibited (willing to do things they would not normally do)
- unable to remember things (loss of short-term memory)
The main physical effects of GHB use may include:
- jerky muscle movements and loss of coordination
- lowered body temperature (users feel cold)
- nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- loss of consciousness
- decreased blood pressure and heart rate
- slowed breathing (in high enough doses, the drug can even stop people breathing)
At high doses, GHB's sedative effects may result in a coma or death.
GHB can also cause vomiting. Users who eat or drink before taking the drug or consuming alcohol increase their risk of choking on vomit. Because GHB can also cause unconsciousness, users who choke on their vomit may die.
It is also relatively easy to overdose on GHB, with death as an outcome. The symptoms of overdose include:
- slowed breathing
Taking GHB together with other depressants such as alcohol or a psychoactive drug like benzodiazepine is very dangerous. The combined effects of these drugs on the nervous system can result in:
- difficulty breathing
- lowered heart rate
Long-term effects of GHB
Little is known about the long-term use of GHB on people's health.
If taken during pregnancy, it is possible that GHB may harm an unborn child.
Addiction and withdrawal
If people use GHB often, they may become tolerant to the drug's effects. This means they need to take more and more of the drug to get the same effect. Regular use may lead to physical dependence and addiction.
If a drug like GHB is suddenly stopped (withdrawn), the person can experience withdrawal symptoms, including cravings for the drug.
Mental symptoms of GHB withdrawal may include:
- confusion and delirium
- hallucinations (hearing, seeing or feeling things that are not real)
- paranoia (feeling suspicious, hostile or fearful)
- difficulty sleeping
Physical symptoms of withdrawal from GHB may include:
- muscle cramps and trembling
- nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- high blood pressure
- rapid heartbeat
Death can occur during withdrawal from GHB.
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