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Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB)


By Gerald F. O’Malley, DO, Professor of Emergency Medicine, Sidney Kimmel School of Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital ; Rika O’Malley, MD, Attending Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Einstein Medical Center

(See also Drug Use and Abuse.)

Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB or "G") is taken by mouth, usually in liquid form. It is similar to ketamine or alcohol in its effects.


GHB produces feelings of relaxation and tranquility. It may also cause fatigue and feelings of being uninhibited.

At higher doses, GHB may cause

  • Dizziness

  • Loss of coordination

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

At high doses, GHB can also slow breathing and cause seizures and coma, sometimes leading to death. Combining GHB and any other sedatives, especially alcohol, is extremely dangerous. Most deaths have occurred when GHB was taken with alcohol.

Withdrawal symptoms occur if GHB is not taken for several days after previous frequent use. Withdrawal can be life threatening.


  • A doctor's evaluation

Diagnosis is based on symptoms in people known to have used the drug. No readily available tests can confirm the use of GHB.


  • Treatment for symptoms

Treatment is directed at symptoms. A ventilator may be needed if breathing is affected. Most people recover rapidly.

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