GHB: Safety Issues and Side Effects

by John Morgenthaler and Dan Joy

As has been emphasized, the overall safety of GHB is well-established, and no deaths attributable to GHB have been reported over the thirty year period that this compound has been in use. In fact, as of 1990, only forty-six adverse reactions had been reported in the United States surely constituting only an infinitesimal fraction of actual usage, all followed by rapid and complete recovery. Unlike a large proportion of other drugs including alcohol and even Tylenol, GHB has no toxic effects on the liver, kidney or other organs. One program of sleep therapy using six to eight grams daily for a period of eight to ten days produced no side effects. Vickers [1969] even reports that doses as high as twenty to thirty grams per twenty-four hour period have been used for several days without negative consequences (don't do this at home kids!). In the Canadian studies of narcolepsy mentioned earlier, the nightly use of two to six teaspoons (one teaspoon equaling roughly 2.5 grams) for several years resulted in no reports of long-term adverse effects, or problems with issues of addiction or dependence. In one of these studies, one patient inadvertently ingested fifteen teaspoons without adverse consequence "other than deep sedation and headache the next day". And in France, sub-anesthetic oral doses were used by "a large number of patients for about six years" without untoward effect.

Side Effects
According to Dr. Gallimberti [1989], the action of GHB is "without serious side effects." Some research programs have reported no side effects at all. Nonetheless, it's clear that some minor side effects can occur. Those most commonly experienced are drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, and sometimes vomiting. As a sedative-hypnotic, GHB's effects bear some similarity to those of alcohol and tranquilizers. GHB not only "may cause drowsiness" like these other drugs, it will almost invariably do so. Ataxia, or incoordination, can also be a side effect of GHB. Do not drive a vehicle or operate dangerous machinery while under the influence of GHB.

As mentioned, clonic movements (muscle contractions or "seizures") have been observed during the onset of GHB-induced sleep. Headache is sometimes reported. A moderate slowing of the heart rate is a consistent effect, and small changes in blood pressure can take place. Likewise, orthostatic hypotension (a sudden drop in blood pressure caused by standing up quickly) has also been reported. Sometimes this is experienced as brief dizziness, and rarely people can briefly lose consciousness. At very high doses, cardiac and respiratory depression can occur.

Sufficiently large doses of GHB can cause sudden sedation and loss of consciousness. Do not take such doses except when reclining on a bed or sofa. It is also a bad idea to take such doses in the presence of people who don't know anything about GHB. You may alarm your family or friends and wake up in an emergency room (with a large medical bill). More unusual and extreme reactions have included diarrhea, lack of bladder control, temporary amnesia, and sleep-walking. Whatever side effects may be noted, they are often much more severe when GHB is combined with other central nervous system depressants.

Scientific Reports on GHB Why Was GHB Banned? What Are the Real Concerns?
How Does It Feel? The Actions of GHB in the Body GHB and Sex
GHB and Alcohol GHB and Sleep Legal Status and Availability
Other Uses of GHB Dosage Contraindication