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The Informed Parent

GHB Overdose

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Aug. 26, 2002
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Over the past 12 - 18 months there has been a great deal of press surrounding the increase in drug overdose by teens in clubs and at parties. Some experts say it appears that seven out of ten overdoses involve GHB, or chemicals similar to GHB, either alone or in combination with other substances.

Apparently teens have been discovering GHB and its analogues. These drugs, when used alone or in combination with other central nervous system depressants, produce dangerous effects. These effects are magnified when added to the other popular drugs used on the teen party circuit.

GHB is also commonly known as “G”, “Gina”, or “Swirl”. It was originally developed in 1961 as an anesthetic. Research in the United States was discontinued when the drug was found to have unwanted side effects. Then, throughout the 1980”s, GHB was available at health food stores as a sleep aid or to enhance bodybuilding performance.

The FDA labeled GHB a “dangerous drug” after it had begun receiving reports of adverse side effects. Manufacturers began slightly changing the chemical composition of GHB, with resulting chemicals called B, or GBL. Once in the body GBL and B are metabolized differently, but they are eventually converted to GHB. These three different chemical solutions apparently have similar characteristics, but also some important differences, which can lead to side effects or overdose.

GHB and GBL are now both classified as Schedule I drugs, which are the same legal status as cocaine, LSD, and heroin. In New York, possession of small quantities of these drugs carries a sentence of up to a life prison term. Some states, like California, have banned “analogues” of GHB including GBL and B.

Each of the three chemicals is different with respect to its potency. The difference between a mild euphoric effect and an overdose can be as minute as a teaspoon of liquid. Since these drugs are extraordinarily powerful central nervous system depressants, they all magnify the effects of alcohol, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety pills and other depressant types of medications--just the ones that teens often abuse.

The chemical reactions to create GHB involve the use of sodium hydroxide, or lye. If the chemical reaction is uncontrolled or incomplete, serious lye burns can result when the drug is swallowed. Some GHB is also made with heavy metals such as lead, or hydrochloric acid, which may be present in pool cleaners, floor cleaners or industrial solvents.

There have been cases of GHB, GBL and B addiction, especially in those who took GHB as a sleeping aid or a bodybuilding supplement. In these cases of addiction, detoxification is quite serious and may require hospitalization. Overdoses related to GHB and its analogues require careful observation and possibly transportation to a hospital for further care, especially in those teens who become comatose from GHB.

In summary, GHB and its analogues are a dangerous new addition to the party scene. Teens and their parents are urged to beware of this serious chemical.




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