What is GHB?
GHB (Gamma hydroxybutyrate) is a drug commonly found around the dance and party scene. It’s known as a ‘date rape’ drug, because users might not notice if it is slipped into their drink at a party. The main risk with GHB is from an overdose, which could kill.
Gamma hydroxybutyrate was originally developed to be used as an anaesthetic. It is a depressant that slows down the brain and other parts of the central nervous system.
It is taken as a bitter or salty tasting liquid that is odourless or has a slight odour. It can also be found in powder or pill form. GHB typically doesn’t have any colour, but can make a transparent drink cloudy or can be coloured bright blue. It is usually swallowed but sometimes it is injected or inserted anally.
It’s also known as G, GBH (grievous bodily harm), fantasy, gamma G, blue nitro and liquid E, liquid ecstasy, liquid X, Georgia Home Boy, soap, scoop, cherry meth, and fishies.
Although GHB is sometimes called liquid ecstasy due to its effects, it’s not chemically related to the drug ecstasy (MDMA).
What are the effects of taking GHB?
GHB is a depressant drug, which means it slows down the messages travelling to and from the brain. It makes people who use it feel drowsy.
The effects of GHB start about 5 to 20 minutes after it’s taken and can last from a few minutes to a few hours. At first the effects of GHB are the same as alcohol intoxication, such as reduced inhibitions and having slurred speech. Later people may feel confident or excited, upset, take risks or behave in ways they wouldn’t normally, have a heightened sense of touch, or want to have sex.
Withdrawal symptoms start about 6 to 72 hours after the last dose, and often last for 5 to 15 days. They include:
- confusion, anxiety and paranoia
- feeling depressed
- difficulty sleeping
- muscle cramps and tremors
- rapid heart rate
GHB can affect people differently based on:
- how much they take
- how strong it is
- their height and weight
- their general health
- their mood
- their previous experiences with GHB
- whether they take other drugs at the same time
What can go wrong with GHB?
Users can become uncoordinated, dizzy, forgetful, feel sick and vomit. They may get headaches, shake, have diarrhoea or urinary incontinence, have blackouts or a fit, feel disorientated and uncoordinated, get confused or hallucinate. These effects appear earlier if GHB is taken with alcohol. The effects last for up to 4 hours.
GHB is linked to date rape and sexual assaults. It can be camouflaged in drinks, particularly opaque and strong tasting drinks, and leaves the person who took it unable to remember much of what happened.
It’s very easy to overdose on GHB, especially if it’s taken with alcohol. Even small amounts can cause some people to overdose. The signs someone has overdosed on GHB are:
- they cannot be woken up
- they are incoherent
- they have hallucinations
- they are sweating, vomiting or their breathing is irregular or shallow
- they can’t stand
- they have muscle seizures
- their heartbeat is slow and irregular
- their breathing is slow or irregular
- they have blackouts or memory loss
An overdose can cause seizures, or a stroke or a cardiac arrest, leading to coma and death. If you think someone has overdosed on GHB, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. Ambulance officers don’t have to call the police.
Find out about party drugs, including where to find help and support.
Can GHB cause long-term problems?
Using GHB long term can cause memory problems, heart disease, hallucinations, anxiety and breathing problems.
What if I use other drugs or alcohol together with GHB?
It is dangerous to take GHB along with other things that slow the central nervous system, such as alcohol or prescription medications. The risk of overdose is increased if you also take alcohol.
If you use GHB along with amphetamines, you are at risk of a seizure.
Can I become dependent on GHB?
Regular users of GHB can develop a tolerance to the drug very quickly. This means they need more of the drug to get the same effects.
It is also possible to become dependent on GHB, which means people spend a lot of time thinking about the drug and trying to get it.
Resources and support
If you or someone you know are finding it difficult to manage issues as a result of drug use, try healthdirect’s Symptom Checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
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Last reviewed: January 2021