Pubdate: Tue, 06 Feb 2001
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2001 San Francisco Chronicle
Contact:  901 Mission St., San Francisco CA 94103
Author: Ulysses Torassa


Amid growing reports of deaths and emergency room visits from use of the 
popular "club drug" GHB comes even more disturbing news: quitting GHB cold 
turkey may be lethal.

GHB is an easily made industrial solvent that is imbibed and gives users a 
euphoric high. While it was made illegal last year after several people 
died of GHB overdoses, it has become popular at nightclubs, particularly 
among young people.

"If you look on the Internet on GHB, everyone says it's not addicting, it's 
safe, it doesn't cause dependence like heroin," said Jo Ellen Dyer of the 
California Poison Control Center, based at San Francisco General Hospital. 
But what she and her colleagues are finding is just the opposite. 
Withdrawal symptoms include shakiness, confusion, insomnia, delusions and 
even seizures.

Dyer describes eight cases -- including one Florida death -- in today's 
issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine. GHB apparently retrains the 
pathways in the brain so that they are used to lower-than-normal levels of 
certain neurotransmitters. When GHB use is stopped, the brain is 
overwhelmed when more normal amounts of neurotransmitters return. "If I 
didn't have it, I'd start freaking out -- anxiety attacks, shaking 
uncontrollably. I went six months without sleeping," said Tony Southard, a 
North Carolina man who got hooked on GHB from a body-builder friend.

After two years of using it almost around the clock, Southard said he 
needed a seven-day stay in the hospital under heavy sedation to wean his 
body off the drug. "It's the hardest thing I ever did," he said.

In Florida, a 24-year-old man who had been using GHB for more than 10 
months was admitted to the hospital after suffering from severe delirium. 
He died 13 days later of a fatal heart rhythm disturbance, Dyer said. The 
other seven withdrawal cases Dyer described were all from the Bay Area, 
where GHB has become a popular club drug.

In each case, the patients had severe delirium with hallucinations, 
required heavy sedation and had to be admitted to the intensive care unit, 
Dyer said. Their hospital stays ranged from 5 to 15 days. After being 
discharged, some patients experienced continued drug cravings and 
depression, although at this point no other long-term consequences from GHB 
dependence are known.

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate was first used in the body-builder community because 
of its purported effects on muscle growth.

It soon became a popular club drug because of the euphoric high, which 
wears off fairly quickly. Originally marketed as a "natural" and "nontoxic" 
dietary supplement, GHB has been linked to several overdose deaths.

Its toxic effects include vomiting, depressed breathing, loss of 
consciousness and seizures. In response to rising use of the drug and many 
fatal overdoses, as well being used as a date-rape drug, the federal 
government made GHB illegal last year. Cousins of GHB, which have the same 
effect on the body, are also illegal, but are being sold on the Internet.
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