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GHB Report

Reports The Detection of Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB)
Dr. Brian R. Glover and Xei Wong
September 23, 2002

ABSTRACT: The clandestine placement of illicit chemicals into beverages for the purpose of sexual assault is a growing concern throughout the world. With the increasing availability of so called ‘club drugs’ like Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB), a quick, simple and reliable means to qualitatively ascertain the presence of these entities in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in a social setting is necessary. Utilizing Drink Safe Technologies TM colorimetric chemical indicator technology, Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) was tested in 28 common beverages, at varying concentrations. Accurate identification was confirmed in all beverages.


Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is an endogenous metabolite found in human metabolism which shares a similar structure common to the neurotransmitter Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) (1,2). It was first synthesized and used in Europe as an anesthetic in the 1960’s, but it’s use was later discontinued because it lacked analgesics properties, and side effects of petit mal and grand mal seizures as well as comma were often reported (3).

Primarily a central nervous system depressant, adverse effects reported include a large range of clinical features including relaxation, confusion, nausea, agitation and short-term amnesia. Larger doses can lead to respiratory depression, hallucinations and unarousable unconsciousness (3-8). These effects are synergistic with ethanol, making it even more dangerous.

GHB abuse has statistically grown over the last decade as the availability has increased. Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) indicate that the number of emergency room department mentions increased by almost 5000 % from 1994 to 2000 (9) GHB can easily be made in amateur laboratories following simple recipes utilizing ingredients found and purchased on the internet as well as local health food stores.

Available as either a clear liquid or white powder easily made into tablet or capsule form, GHB has earned the sinister distinction of being the ‘date rape’ drug of choice. This is primarily due to the drug’s intrinsic qualities. When placed into a consumable beverage, it imparts little to no discernable taste, no aroma and is relatively undetectable to visual inspection. But it is the ability to render a person in a semi-comatose state after ingestion that makes it a key agent in many drug facilitated sexual assaults.

Relative drug concentrations of GHB used for the purpose of drug-facilitated sexual assault are open to discussion. Matilla et al (1978) concluded in a study of the effects of GHB and alcohol that oral doses of 1 to 2 grams of GHB had little increase in the effects of low doses of ethanol (10). Typically, GHB users will orally ingest in excess of 1 teaspoon, which is equivalent to at least 2.5 grams, 35 mg/kg for a 70 kg person (3,5). In another study, subjects were given a single dose of 30 mg/kg orally. Symptoms reported were sluggishness, fatigue and a feeling of being dazed, drunk and carefree (11). These same symptoms were not reported in placebo control groups. Doses above 50 mg/kg, or about 3.5 grams for a 70 kg individual, resulted in transient unconsciousness, hypotonia, bradycardia and decreased respiration (4,6,8).

Anecdotal accounts of federal and local law enforcement has yielded a rule of thumb being that most would be perpetrators of this act will dispense one to two full capfuls of GHB as measured into a typical soda bottle cap and placed in an 8 ounce beverage. One capful equals about 2 teaspoons of liquid GHB, therefore a typical dosing can range from 5.0 grams to over 10 grams. Most victims will feel the effect s before they ever finish the full 8 ounce beverage, thereby receiving a potentially lethal dose, but deaths have been reported.

Previously, there had not been a qualitative field assay, which was simple, reliable and efficient as well as being discrete so as to have large public acceptance. The purposed Drink Safe Coaster TM and Drink Safe Personal Test Strips TM utilizing Drink Safe Technologies TM colorimetric chemical indicator technology was created to fill this need. These easily performed tests were designed to provide a ‘first line of defense’ against the addition of Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) into a consumable beverage. Using a variation of some well documented chemical colorimetric indicators, like platinum iodide or Zimmermann’s reagent, this patent-pending technology was created to have a high affinity for Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) complexed with either sodium or potassium as the associated cation.


Drink Safe Technologies TM colorimetric chemical indicator technology version 1.2 was applied to unbleached, ph balanced, sodium free test paper. Four test spots were created per beverage to be tested, three for the varying concentrations, and one for a control. Sodium Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (NaGHB) powder was obtained and measured into 2.0 gram, 3.0 gram and 4.0 gram doses. Each was placed into the 30 selected beverages, which were chosen as being indicative of typical public consumption. A control beverage of each was tested for false positives. The beverages tested were measured to be room temperature, 25° C +/- 1° C. All beverages were stirred until all solid particles were incorporated into solution. Test responses were interpreted in adequate natural light, and with holding the test paper up to the light source when necessary for further clarification. A droplet of each beverage using a glass stirring rod was placed upon each test spot, smeared lightly, and allowed to dry. The list of beverages selected were as follows:

Non-Alcoholic Beverages:
Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, 7-Up, Coffee-plain, Tea-plain, Snapple Ice Tea-regular, Snapple Ice Tea-diet, Dansi bottled water, Gatorade-green.

Alcoholic Beverages:
Budweiser beer, Miller Lite beer, Coors Light beer, Amstel Light beer, Cabernet Sauvignon California wine-Vendange (2000), Chardonnay California wine-Vendange (2000), Feischmano’s vodka, Seagram’s-7 whiskey, Jack Daniels whiskey, Bacardi rum-Carta Blanca, Cuervo Gold tequila, Rum and Coke (Bacardi with Coca Cola), Margarita (Cuervo Gold), Bloody Mary (Feishmano Vodka).


All beverages tested gave positive results with all 3 concentrations dispensed, within 3 minutes elapsed time. Higher concentrations of drugs gave a quicker and slighter brighter blue result than lesser concentrations. Beverages with an intrinsic darker color took more effort to interpret, with Cabernet Sauvignon wine being the most difficult, and the Bloody Mary drink being second. It should be noted that appropriate lighting conditions are necessary, and holding the test area up to a light source to let the light pass through the paper, greatly helps with harder to interpret results.

It should also be noted that although bottled water performed adequately in terms of true positive and true negative results, some tap water from different areas will have a tendency to give a false negative ‘hallow’ effect which sometimes will dissipate upon drying and sometimes not. This effect, primarily due to heavy metal ions within the samples, should be noted.


Detection of beverages tainted with Gamma-Hydroxy butyrate (GHB) utilizing colorimetric chemical indicators is a promising tool in the fight against drug facilitated sexual assault. Common sense dictates that a level of interpretation by the operator is in order, and discretion should always be followed with regards to the results. Adequate lighting is very important, and it is unfortunate that many social settings where the test would be most effective are generally devoid of this.

No one method or technology should be relied upon exclusively. The tried and true advice of watch your drink, don't leave it unattended, go out in groups and when in doubt don't consume, is still the single best combat against drug facilitated sexual assault.


1. Ferra SD. et al. J of Pharm and Biomed Anal 1993; 11:483-7.
2. Adornato B. and TSE V. Western J of Med 1995; 92:354-7.
3. Dyer JE. g-hydroxybutyrate: A health food product producing coma and seizure-like activity. Am J Emerg Med
1991; 9:321-4.
4. Pallatini P. Tedeschi L. Frison G. Padrini R. Zordan R. Orlano R. et al. Dose-dependent absortion and
elimination of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid in healthy volunteers. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 1993; 45:353-6
5. Galloway GP. Fredrick SL. Staggers FE Jr. Gonzales M. Stalcup SA. Smith DE. Gamma-hydroxybutyrate: an
emerging drug of abuse that causes physical dependence. Addiction 1997; 92(1)c89-96.
6. Chin M-Y. Kneuzer RA. Dyer JE. Acute poisoning from g-hydroxybutyrate in California. West J Med 2000;
156: 380-4.
7. Li J. Stokes SA. Woeckemer A. A tale of novel intoxication: a review of the effects of g-hydroxybutyric acid
with recommendations for management. Ann Emerg Med 1998b; 31(6): 729-36.
8. Baselt RC. Cravey RH. Disposition of toxic drugs and chemicals in man. 5th ed. Foster City, CA: Chemical
Toxicology Institute, 2000;386-8.
9. National Drug Intelligence Center, U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Threat Assessment 2002;table
A9: 80
10. Matilla MJ. Palva E. Sepälä T. Ostrovskaya RU. Actions and interactions with alcohol of drugs on
psychomotor skills: comparison of diazepam and g-hydroxybutyric acid. Arch Int Pharmacodyn 1978; 234;
11. Rosen MI. Pearsall HR. Woods SW. Kosten TR. Effects of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) in opiod-
dependent patients. J Subst Abuse Treat 1997; 14(2); 149-54.



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