The illicit distribution of GHB

GHB presents an array of problems for law enforcement, starting with the ease of availability and acquirement, difficulty of detection not only in the field but in laboratory examinations as well. The illicit distribution of GHB and its analogs, most commonly takes place at rave concerts, nightclubs, gyms, or high schools and college campuses. At these venues GHB is usually sold for $5 to $20 per capful (approximately one teaspoonful) and is known by the street names: Georgia Home Boy, Liquid E, Liquid X, Scoop, etc.

The manufacturing of GHB is simplified to the point where even a nonprofessional person can obtain instructions for making GHB, through underground magazines and or on the internet, then combine the ingredients together in a sink or bathtub. This aspect of GHB manufacturing is one of the factors contributing to its potential to be lethal when used. Due to the nonprofessional manufacturing techniques, each sample or batch varies in purity, concentration, and potency content, thus leading to increased and unpredictable effects to users or unsuspecting victims (Sanguinetti, Angelo & Frank, 1997).

While commonly ingested voluntarily, GHB is often used in drug facilitated sexual assaults and rape. Even though called "date-rape-drug" the perpetrators could be either strangers or acquaintances. Due to its colorless, odorless nature, the perpetrators manage to drop the GHB into an unsuspecting victim's beverage, without their knowledge. Within 10 to 20 minutes after the victim has ingested the GHB, roughly one teaspoonful, the voluntary muscles relax, and the victim experiences lasting anterograde amnesia; no memory of the events that took place while under the influence of GHB (Donovan, 2000).

While blacked out, the victim is then sexually assaulted or raped. The victims usually fall into a GHB-induced coma, but even those who do not, are defenseless because they can not move their arms or legs (Hensley, 2003). Usually someone who has lost consciousness due to GHB ingestion recovers spontaneously after approximately five hours (Chin et al. , 1998) Because of the memory impairment, many victims may not report the incident, and when they do, the prosecution of these offenses presents difficulties, due to the inability of the victims to recall the details of the crime.

From the law enforcement point of view, anytime there is a report of a possible sexual assault involving GHB, expedient evidence collection becomes an imperative task when considering the fact that GHB has a short duration and quickly leaves the victims body. GHB is metabolized rapidly, within ten to twelve hours, but large amounts are excreted into the urine during the first six hours, after ingestion (ElSohly & Salomone, 1999). So, the sooner the specimens, like blood and urine, are collected after the event, the more likely the rapidly excreted drugs like alcohol and GHB will be detected.

The longer the delay, a lower concentration of drug metabolite is in the urine, translating to an increased probability the drug will be missed by the analytical testing method (Schwartz et al. , 2000). In the field, GHB and its analogs present problems for law enforcement officers not only because their detection requires specific field and laboratory testing, but also because the initial identification of these substance is hard to accomplish. Being a clear, colorless liquid, GHB and its analogs can be easily combined with water, alcohol, or any flavored beverage and stored in an array of generic bottles.

So, it is not unusual for investigators to find this drug of abuse in water bottles, sport bottles, or milk containers. When law enforcement officers suspect the presence of GHB, three different color tests have shown to be useful for GHB detection: cobalt nitrate, Marquis reagent, and Mandelin reagent (DOJ, 2002). As the popularity of the Gamma-hydroxybutyrate grows, fueled by its low cost and ease of manufacture, so will the challenge and efforts of law enforcement to control it.

Sharing information among medical personnel, law enforcement officers, and laboratory personnel is essential to taper the use of GHB and its analogs. Also, more training, education, and improved detection and analysis methods would enhance the law enforcement efforts in fighting GHB abuse.


Donovan, J. W. (2000). Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate, Gamma-Butyrolactone, and Butanediol: Abuse and effects. Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology, 38(2), 183. Dyer, J. E. (2000). Evolving abuse of GHB in California: Bodybuilding drug to date-rape drug.

Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology. 38(2), 184. Hensley, Laura (Winter 2003). GHB Abuse Trends and Use in Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault: Implications for Prevention. NASPA Journal, Vol. 40, no. 2. Miotto, Karen. M. D. , Darakijan, Jack. M. A. , Basch, Janice. B. A. , Murray, Shanna. B. A. , Zogg, Jennifer. M. A. , Rawson, Richard. Ph. D. , (2001). Gamma-Hydroxybutyric Acid: Patterns of Use, Effects and Withdrawal. The American Journal on Addictions. 10:232-241. American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.