Monday, October 10, 2011

Medical Mondays: Gabbing about GABA and GHB

Today we have some interesting questions from Lorelei Bell. One of the questions she asked was:
I know that gamma-amino butyric acid is a depressant of the central nervous system, and is used primarily to stimulate the release of growth hormone for increased muscle mass, but is it also called GHB? Also, what form would it come in? Bottle? Packets?

(FYI, this question is regarding non-prescription use, bought off the street for nefarious purposes. Lorelei, your poor characters! Aren't we writers so mean?)

Gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter in the brain. It's job is to temper the excitability of neurons. (Kind of a like a mom who tells her sugar-hopped kids to keep their grabby hands to themselves and to please, for the fifth time, settle down!) GABA also regulates muscle tone (without it, muscles become spastic).

GABA that is ingested can't actually get into the brain, so it can't be used as a medicine. Instead, there are meds that mimic GABA and have calming, anti-anxiety, and anti-seizure effects.

Examples: muscle relaxants (Baclofen), benzodiazepines (Valium), and anti-seizure meds (phenobarbital) and other substances (alcohol, kava, lemon balm, valerian).

But what is GHB?

GHB is Gamma hydroxybutyrate.
It was initially created in France to mimic GABA, but had too many side effects to be approved for US usage at first. Soon after, it was sold in health food stores as a supplement for bodybuilding and weight loss. Before long, it became abused because of its euphoric, stimulant, relaxation effects and usage as a date-rape drug.

Two industrial solvents also began being abused (gamma butyrolactone and 1,4 butanediol) because they are chemically converted into GHB after ingestion.

GHB is used in the medical community, marketed as Xyrem, to treat narcolepsy. It comes in a brown bottle and is given as a liquid form, by dropper.

GHB on the street is sold as a clear, odorless liquid with a salty or soapy taste. It can also be sold as a white powder. The two solvents are liquids with chemical taste to them so they are often masked with flavorings or colors, but they too have shown up on the black market in capsule form.

GHB is extremely dangerous. It can cause:
  • death, almost always because the user stops breathing
  • coma
  • agitation, violent behavior, tics, and delerium
  • fatal heart rhythms
  • amnesia
  • seizures
  • muscle destruction that can then cause kidney failure
  • trauma from intoxication (including broken bones, head trauma, and motor vehicle accidents)
Scary stuff, that GHB. Funny how the quest for a new medication can produce a kind of chemical Frankenstein, instead.

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only! Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar --->

Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)


Sarah said...

Thanks for the explanation! I wasn't really aware of how dangerous GHB is or how it was developed!

Connie Keller said...

Wow, I had no idea! Thanks for the information.

Karen Lange said...

Like Sarah and Connie, I had no idea. Thanks for the info. You are such a great resource, and your style and sense of humor make it even better! :)

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Eek! That stuff is scary. I'll never understand why people would put anything so dangerous into their body. A high isn't worth dying for.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, interesting stuff!

Krispy said...

Scary but interesting!

julie fedderson said...

Good stuff Lydia! It's important to consider the not-so-classic drugs of abuse in a literary scenario, especially since we don't screen for many of them which may make for an interesting plot.

Unknown said...

You have by far the most creative thing in creating this fabulous Medical Monday! You've helped me so much with my character questions and I ADORE learning others new ideas!

Jennifer Hillier said...

Scary stuff!

I agree with Jen - you've got the posts in the blogosphere on Mondays. Love love your Medical Mondays!

Ciara said...

Scary stuff.

Leslie S. Rose said...

Creepy. I think I'll avoid anything that starts with a "G".

Rachna Chhabria said...

Interesting to read about GHB and GABA. Didn't know about it.

Linda Gray said...

Yikes! That is seriously scary stuff. The things we do to ourselves!!

Olga said...

Despite being very sensitive in regards to reading medical details, I still read your Medical Mondays with great interest. They are a special delight :)

Lorelei Bell said...

Lydia, you sure did help me out on this. Thanks so much! sorry I'm late in getting to this. But your post and blog is very informative, and so glad you're out there. I also thank Heather for turning me on to this blog. Yay Heather!

Anonymous said...

Yikes. Scary and interesting stuff.

I'll check out the links.

aisyahputrisetiawan said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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