GHB: New-Age Healer or Date-Rape Helper?

In the early '60s, chemists first synthesized GHB, or gamma- hydroxybutyrate, a naturally occurring nutrient produced by the body. Like most drugs, GHB was created with good intentions, and it quickly became recognized as a promising treatment for disorders like narcolepsy, depression and anxiety. And the benefits didn't stop there. It was also touted for its ability to activate growth hormones and burn fat, traits that made it a favorite among body builders. To this day, Europeans who suffer from narcolepsy, depression and anxiety are prescribed GHB.That's not the case in the States, where eight years ago, after monitoring the substance for years, the FDA made it illegal to sell or possess GHB, citing "numerous cases of GHB-related illness." Once available in health food stores, the synthetic nutrient went the way of marijuana and lysergic acid diethylamide-medicinal treatments now banned in the U.S.Despite (or because of) its black market status, GHB abuse is growing, especially its use as a new date-rape drug. It has supposedly become an alternative to rohypnol (roofies), especially since the manufacturers of that drug caught on and began to add a blue dye for easy drink detection. Street versions of GHB -- known as "Grievous Bodily Harm" and"Liquid X" -- can easily be synthesized on stove-tops with kits obtained over the Internet. For the less-initiated, GHB can be bought on the street for a mere 10 bucks per dose.Easy access and abuse have led to some near-fatalities. A study conducted by the Drug Abuse Warning Network found that GHB-related emergency-room visits rose from just 20 in 1992 to more than 600 in 1996 -- a startling 3,000-percent increase. And the problem doesn't appear to be going away any time soon."It's a very bad idea to mix GHB with any other depressant," says John Morgenthaler, co-author of GHB: The Natural Mood Enhancer. "Serious drinking and GHB together is a complete unknown. At the very least, it could strongly increase the effects of GHB such that a relatively low dose could put you to sleep. At most, it could be fatal."When GHB is ingested, it induces feelings of relaxation, tranquility, placidity, sensuality, mild euphoria and a tendency to verbalize. Anxieties and inhibitions tend to dissipate, flooding the body with a sense of emotional warmth, well-being and a pleasant drowsiness. That's if you know you're taking it. To someone who's been dosed without his or her knowledge, several grams of GHB can cause strong mental and physical relaxation within five to 10 minutes; the effects can last up to three hours. For heavier people or those with a full stomach, one dose could be likened to a couple glasses of wine. For others, say lightweights or those on a diet, a dose creates a similar buzz to a couple of six packs. At high dosages -- say two to three grams -- a victim could fall into a GHB-induced sleep that could last up to four hours. Smaller doses can have the same effect when mixed with alcohol. And you don't want to spend four hours unconscious in the hands of someone you don't know. Because you may unwittingly encounter GHB -- or roofies -- it's best to take a few simple precautions:*Never take a drink from someone you don't know.*Never leave your drink unattended in a spot where others have access to it.*Never allow anyone to tell you to drink something you don't want.*Never think that it won't happen to you.*If you absolutely feel the need to experience GHB, never mix it with anything.Still, as Morgenthaler says, "We hope that most people will agree that the possible use of GHB by a few unscrupulous men should not result in banning a substance that offers so many beneficial health and medical uses for the rest of us." In fact, he adamantly supports legalization of the drug. Pro-GHB groups point to its treatment of psychological disorders and praise the drug for its lack of side effects when taken properly. Both sound like convincing arguments, considering that every drug has been abused by someone, and very few drugs are side-effect free. But in 1998, GHB is expendable. Prozac has become the drug of choice for depression and anxiety, while drugs like Halcion and Valium work wonders for sleep disorders. Psychopharmaceuticals are a big business (and a big word); if GHB had commercial value, rest assured, the FDA would legalize it.Wanna know more about both sides of the GHB controversy? Go to the Digital Campus at www.linkmag.com, and type in the Link2Code GHB98.

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