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The Dangers of GHB Abuse

GHB is often abused for its euphoric and dissociative effects, with most users being unaware of the many consequences they'll soon face.

Over the past decade, teenagers and young adults involved in the party scene have gravitated towards certain hallucinogen-based drugs, one of which is GHB. GHB, also known as gamma-hydroxybutyrate, works in much the same way as ketamine, inducing hallucinogenic states by shutting off communications between the brain and body. This drug’s powerful effects account for its classification as one of a handful of “date rape” drugs.

The dangers of GHB abuse run the gamut in terms of its effects in the brain and its overall abuse and addiction potential. For people using this drug on a frequent basis, the dangers of GHB abuse become more so pronounced over time.

GHB Abuse Effects

While GHB is commonly known as one of the up and coming “club drugs,” the body’s cells naturally produce GHB, according to the University of Maryland. GHB acts as a central nervous depressant, but the street drug variety also produces powerful hallucinogenic effects.

GHB can be taken orally, injected or inserted anally. The overall effects of the drug can vary depending on the amount taken, a person’s weight and health, how often a person takes it and the strength of any one batch.

GHB Abuse

GHB can cause dizziness and headaches.

GHB typically takes anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes to take effect and can last for up to three to four hours in duration. People under the influence of GHB may experience:

  • An increase in sex drive
  • Lack of coordination
  • Euphoria
  • Lapses in memory
  • Upset stomach
  • Jitteriness
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Headaches, dizziness
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Diarrhea

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GHB Tolerance Increases

GHB interferes with the brain’s chemical neurotransmitter systems, including GABA, glutamate, dopamine as well as the body’s own GHB neurotransmitter processes. With frequent use, the brain comes to tolerate the drug as chemical-producing cells become less sensitive to GHB’s effects.

As tolerance levels increase, more of the drug must be ingested in order to produce the desired “high” effect. These interactions work to reinforce the potential for GHB abuse over time.

Withdrawal Effects

Like any other addictive-type drug, GHB disrupts the brain’s functional capacity through its effects on the brain’s chemical or neurotransmitter output. Once chemical levels become markedly unstable, users start to experience withdrawal effects.

Withdrawal effects play an active role in driving the GHB abuse cycle as users typically opt to ingest more of the drug in order to gain relief from uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms tend to start 12 hours after a person’s last use and may take the form of:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Intense feelings of panic
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Muscle cramping

What are Club Drugs and what makes them So Dangerous?

Overdose Risks

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, GHB effects vary according dose and can be hard to predict in terms of dosage amounts. In effect, the amount needed to get “high” is dangerously close to the amount that can bring on an overdose. With frequent GHB abuse, the potential for overdose events increases considerably. Signs of GHB overdose include:

  • Seizures
  • Blackouts
  • Vomiting
  • Profuse sweating
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Shallow or irregular breathing rates
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death

Treatment Considerations

The tolerance and withdrawal effects that come with GHB abuse leave a person susceptible to addiction, which essentially strips away his or her ability to control drug-using behaviors. Under these conditions, the need for treatment help is critical.

If you or someone you know struggles with GHB abuse and need help finding treatment that meets your needs, please don’t hesitate to call our toll-free helpline at 800-609-2774 (Who Answers?) to speak with one of our addictions specialists.

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