What’s It Actually Like To Take GHB?

'Harm reduction messaging doesn't work except to make people aware to call for help if their friends are in trouble'

What's It Actually Like To Take GHB?

by Anna Codrea-Rado |

Jeremy doesn't have many good things to say about GHB. A seasoned party drug user, he's tried the substance commonly known as 'liquid ecstasy' a handful of times, to varying degrees of negative effects.

'The first night I ever tried GHB was at a psytrance night,' Jeremy, whose name has been changed, tells The Debrief. 'The woman offering the GHB around gave us all a drop in our mouths and then did a big one herself and then promptly started throwing up, for about 10 minutes,' he says.

'Somehow I managed to avoid the stomach based violence, but my friends were less lucky with one of them having to be taken home almost immediately because he couldn’t stop being sick.'

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GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate, is a central-nervous-system depressant that can produce euphoric effects. GHB usually hits after about ten minutes and the effects last about an hour. It's one of the most stigmatised drugs out there because of its association with date rape, but plenty of people – particularly in the gay club scene - take it recreationally.

GHB is a particularly risky drug because of how it's administered. It comes in a liquid form and people take it by dropping it either directly into their mouths or into a drink. All drugs carry a risk when it come it comes to dosing, but with GHB it only takes one drop too many to produce negative effects.

'The trouble with GHB that you buy in a bottle you can't be guaranteed what it say on the label is in the bottle,' Harry Shapiro, director at Drugwise says. 'For a naive person who drops some in a drink, you have no idea your dosage level.'

Shapiro explains that unlike other drugs like pills or MDMA powder which can be broken up, it's very difficult to control a dose of GHB. In a dark club, it's virtually impossible to know the strength of the GHB you've bought, so even using the rule of thumb of taking one drop isn't going to be sufficient as you don't know how strong that drop will be.

One of the biggest risks with GHB is mixing it with alcohol. Shapiro says: 'Mixing with alcohol you have two depressants and you're asking for an overdose.' The reason it's so dangerous to mix the two is because when combined they produce what is known as a synergistic effect which is when the effect is greater than the sum of each individual one. Put simply it means that taking GHB when you're drunk is going to be more intense than the combined effects of being drunk and high on GHB.

'I'm a big harm reduction advocate,' Shapiro says, 'But you can't do it with GHB. Harm reduction messaging doesn't work except to make people aware to call for help if their friends are in trouble.'

Shapiro emphasises the importance of seeking help if your friend takes GHB and becomes unwell. 'If someone looks ill, you need to get medical help as soon as possible. And tell paramedic what happened and what they took,' he says.

Jeremy knows first hand how easy it is for a friend to get in trouble.

One of his friends had found out that some alloy wheel cleaners contain GBL (a substance very similar to GHB) and had decided to take that instead of going through the rigmarole of buying GHB from a drug dealer. After a night out, they ended up at a house party where his friend took the alloy wheel cleaner.

Jeremy explains: 'He told us he was still feeling really buzzed and was planning to keep taking it until it puts him to sleep. Eventually go to bed, him and I sharing a mattress. At some point I woke up, to realise that my friend was borderline choking on his own vomit, and had wet himself.'

Jeremy put his friend into the recovery position and eventually he woke up. 'I genuinely don’t know what would have happened if he’d been on his own,' Jeremy says.

He adds: 'It’s something we laughed off at the time, we were 22-23 then and much less aware of the dangers of over-indulgence. But it has stayed with me ever since as a cautionary tale and I’ve never touched GHB since.'

*For more information about GHB, visit Talk To Frank and Drugswise. *

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Follow Anna on Twitter @annacod

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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