Distribution of GHB in tissues and fluids following a fatal overdose

J Anal Toxicol. 2005 Jul-Aug;29(5):398-400. doi: 10.1093/jat/29.5.398.


Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is encountered in biological specimens as an endogenous neuromodulator, recreational drug, or therapeutic agent. Clinically, the drug is useful for the treatment of cataplexy. Illicit doses are typically 2-4 g, and the onset of action is rapid, occurring 15-30 min following oral ingestion. Dose-dependent effects include drowsiness, euphoria, dizziness, vomiting, respiratory depression, coma, and death. GHB was isolated from biological samples using a simple liquid-liquid extraction. The trimethylsilyl derivative (GHB-di-TMS) was analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry with positive chemical ionization. Deuterated internal standard and selective ion monitoring were used throughout. We report a GHB fatality involving a 35-year-old male who was partying with friends. Subjects at the party ingested unknown quantities of wine and GHB. A female companion at the party reported seeing the male alive before she herself passed out. She awoke to find the decedent cold and stiff. Postmortem specimens were submitted for comprehensive toxicology testing. No alcohol or common drugs of abuse were detected. A targeted analysis revealed GHB in urine, brain, vitreous fluid, femoral blood, heart blood, and liver at concentrations of 1665 mg/L, 102 mg/kg, 48 mg/L, 461 mg/L, 276 mg/L, and 52 mg/kg, respectively. Concentrations of the drug in urine and vitreous fluid are important in death investigations because of significant postmortem production of GHB in blood specimens. The cause of death was attributed to GHB intoxication, and the manner of death was accidental.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Chemistry*
  • Drug Overdose
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / analysis
  • Illicit Drugs / blood
  • Illicit Drugs / poisoning*
  • Illicit Drugs / urine
  • Liver / chemistry*
  • Male
  • Postmortem Changes
  • Sodium Oxybate / analysis
  • Sodium Oxybate / blood
  • Sodium Oxybate / poisoning*
  • Sodium Oxybate / urine
  • Substance Abuse Detection
  • Vitreous Body / chemistry*


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Sodium Oxybate