Drug Guide

GBL (Gamma-Butyrolactone)

By Anthony McDaniel, M.D.

Gamma-Butyrolactone (γ-butyrolactone or GBL) is a hygroscopic colorless oily liquid with a weak characteristic odor and is soluble in water. GBL is a common solvent and reagent in chemistry and is used as an aroma compound, as a stain remover, as a superglue remover, as a paint stripper, and as a solvent in some wet aluminum electrolytic capacitors. In humans it acts as a prodrug for GHB, and it is used as a recreational intoxicant. To bypass GHB restriction laws, home synthesis kits were introduced to transform GBL and/or 1,4-B into GHB. GBL can also be used as a recreational drug by itself. GBL overdose can cause irrational behaviour, severe sickness, coma and death.

Metabolism takes place in stomach and blood plasma. The duration and onset of GBL is shorter and has a faster onset than GHB. Otherwise, effects are similar to GHB, although weight for weight it is significantly more powerful due to being absorbed faster and its higher bioavailability, meaning dosage must be lowered accordingly. If taken undiluted by mouth, GBL can cause esophageal and gastro-intestinal irritation. It is possible for oral ingestion of GBL to cause nausea and other similar problems, possibly more so than with GHB. GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) and GBL (gamma butyrolactone) are substances which are often used as recreational drugs. GHB has two effects, at low doses it has a euphoric effect (which is why it is sometimes referred to as liquid ecstasy). At higher doses it acts like a sedative and can make the user unconscious very quickly.

Frequent use of GHB/GBL, even when taken long-term and in moderate doses, does not appear to cause significant physical dependency in the greater majority of its users. In many people, quitting or temporarily abstaining from use of the drugs is achieved with minimal or no difficulty. However, when consumed in excessive amounts with a high frequency of dosing, physical and psychological dependence can develop. Frequent use of alcohol (which induces similar effects) can directly translate to physical and usually psychological addiction, where the heavy user can suffer painful and even life-threatening withdrawals. There are some reports of GHB/GBL users adopting a '24/7' dosing regime. This is where the user has become tolerant to the effects of the drug, increasing the dosage and frequency of dosage simply to avoid withdrawal symptoms. For those users who do report withdrawal symptoms upon quitting the use of GHB/GBL, symptoms seem to depend on the dosage and the length of time the drug was used for. Light to moderate users often experience insomnia and sleep-related problems, whereas heavy, prolonged use can cause severe withdrawal symptoms similar to Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome (BWS). Reports on a BBC show have suggested that severe GBL withdrawals can lead to delerium tremens, addiction and, in fact, seizures, causing death in many circumstances.

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