Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB): a scoping review of pharmacology, toxicology, motives for use, and user groups

J Psychoactive Drugs. 2014 Jul-Aug;46(3):243-51. doi: 10.1080/02791072.2014.921746.


Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a central nervous system depressant with euphoric and relaxant effects. Documentation of GHB prevalence and the underreporting of abuse remains problematic, given the availability of GHB and its precursors γ-butyrolactone (GBL) and 1,4-butanediol (1,4-BD) and the ease of synthesis from kits available on the Internet. The continued abuse of and dependence on GHB, and associated fatalities, present an on-going public health problem. As the drug GHB remains an underresearched topic, a scoping review was chosen as a technique to map the available literature into a descriptive summarized account. PRISMA was used to assist in data retrieval, with subsequent data charting into three key themes (pharmacology and toxicology, outcomes, and user groups). Administered orally, GHB is dose-dependent and popular for certain uses (therapeutic, body enhancement, sexual assault) and amongst user sub groups (recreational party drug users, homosexual men). Despite the low prevalence of use in comparison to other club drugs, rising abuse of the drug is associated with dependence, withdrawal, acute toxicity, and fatal overdose. Clinical diagnosis and treatment is complicated by the co-ingestion of alcohol and other drugs. Limitations of the scoping review and potential for further research and harm reduction initiatives are discussed.

Keywords: GHB; Liquid Ecstasy; Liquid X; gamma hydroxybutyrate.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Users / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / adverse effects
  • Psychotropic Drugs / pharmacology*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / supply & distribution
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sodium Oxybate / adverse effects
  • Sodium Oxybate / pharmacology*
  • Sodium Oxybate / supply & distribution
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / mortality
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*


  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Sodium Oxybate