GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a substance naturally present in your body. It acts as a depressant, slowing and calming the activity of your nervous system.
In Canada, doctors can prescribe GHB for narcolepsy (a serious sleep disorder). However, it can also be made in illegal labs and sold illegally.
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GHB is often called a date-rape drug, because its sedative effects prevent victims from resisting sexual assault.
GHB is also known as:
- easy lay
- liquid ecstasy
- grievous bodily harm
In liquid form GHB is:
It can be slipped into your drink without you noticing.
GHB can also come in the form of powder or capsules.
The strength of GHB is not predictable and the doses needed to get effects vary between individuals.
The effects of GHB are felt within 5 to 30 minutes and may last 1 to 6 hours.
Because GHB is associated with inebriation, using it can also lead to impaired driving.
GHB is controlled under Schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Activities such as sale, possession and production of GHB are illegal, unless authorized for medical, scientific or industrial purposes.
Short-term effects of GHB
GHB use can lead to short-term mental and physical effects.
The main mental effects of GHB use may include feeling:
- dizzy (may last for several days)
- inebriated (like drinking alcohol)
- happy, with a sense of well-being (euphoria)
- uninhibited (willing to do things you would not normally do)
You may also be unable to remember things (loss of short-term memory).
The main physical effects of GHB use may include:
- slowed breathing
- nausea and vomiting
- drowsiness, loss of consciousness
- decreased blood pressure and heart rate
- jerky muscle movements and loss of coordination
At high doses, GHB's sedative effects may result in a coma or death.
It is very easy to overdose on GHB. Symptoms of overdose include:
- slowed or no breathing, slow heart rate
- cold body temperature
- very deep sleep, or even coma
It is very dangerous to take GHB with:
- other depressants such as alcohol
- a psychoactive drug like benzodiazepine
The effects of those drugs add up on your nervous system. This increases the chances of life-threatening overdose.
Because GHB may cause vomiting, you could die by choking on your vomit, if you are unconscious.
Staying at the scene of an overdose is important to help save the life of the person overdosing. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act gives some legal protection for individuals who witness an overdose and call 911 or their local emergency number for help.
Long-term effects of GHB
We know little about the long-term use of GHB on people's health. The main known risk is GHB dependence.
Other long-term effects that have been reported include:
- heart disease
- extreme anxiety
- breathing problems
If you take it during pregnancy, it is possible that GHB may harm your unborn child.
Risks related to GHB use
Even though GHB is not known as a dangerous drug, its use is associated with:
- loss of inhibition
- memory loss
Therefore GHB use can lead to situations of impaired driving or sexual assault.
Co-use with other depressants such as alcohol or benzodiazepines increases the chance of overdose.
Substance use disorders and withdrawal
If you use GHB often, your body may become tolerant of it. This means you need to take more and more to get the same effect. Regular use may lead to physical dependence and substance use disorder.
If you become tolerant and suddenly stop taking GHB, you can experience withdrawal symptoms, including cravings for the drug. Withdrawal may last 14 days or more.
Mental symptoms of GHB withdrawal may include:
- difficulty sleeping
- confusion and delirium
- paranoia (feeling suspicious, hostile or fearful)
- hallucinations (hearing, seeing or feeling things that are not real)
Physical symptoms of withdrawal from GHB may be potentially life-threatening. They include:
- rapid heartbeat
- high blood pressure
- muscle cramps and trembling
- nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
You can die during withdrawal from GHB.
After all of the drug is gone from your body (detoxification), you may still suffer from:
- chronic anxiety
- difficulty thinking
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