GHB, GBL and 1,4-BD addiction

Curr Pharm Des. 2014;20(25):4076-85. doi: 10.2174/13816128113199990624.


A growing body of evidence shows that gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) is an addictive substance. Its precursors gammabutyrolactone (GBL) and 1,4-butanediol (1,4-BD) show the same properties and may pose even more risks due to different pharmacokinetics. There are indications that problematic GHB use is increasing in the European Union. This review investigates the existing literature on the neurochemistry of GHB and its precursors, their acute toxicity, addiction potential and withdrawal, the proposed molecular mechanism underlying addiction and the treatment of withdrawal and addiction. Current evidence shows that GHB and its precursors are highly addictive, both in humans and animals, probably through a GABAB receptor related mechanism. Severity of withdrawal symptoms can be considered as a medical emergency. Recent studies suggest that benzodiazepines are not very effective, showing a high treatment resistance, whereas detoxification with pharmaceutical GHB proved to be successful. However, relapse in GHB use is frequent and more research is warranted on relapse prevention. This might aid medical practitioners in the field and improve general understanding of the severity of addiction to GHB, GBL and 1,4-BD.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 4-Butyrolactone / adverse effects*
  • 4-Butyrolactone / metabolism
  • 4-Butyrolactone / pharmacokinetics
  • Animals
  • Butylene Glycols / adverse effects*
  • Butylene Glycols / metabolism
  • Butylene Glycols / pharmacokinetics
  • Humans
  • Hydroxybutyrates / adverse effects*
  • Hydroxybutyrates / metabolism
  • Hydroxybutyrates / pharmacokinetics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control


  • Butylene Glycols
  • Hydroxybutyrates
  • 4-hydroxybutyric acid
  • 1,4-butanediol
  • 4-Butyrolactone