GHB, GBL & Chem Sex

What is GHB & GBL? GHB: Gamma Hydroxybutyrate & GBL is Gamma Butyrolactone. Both are central nervous system depressants, meaning they slow your heartrate and breathing. (See our other article for more details about GHB also!)

  • GHB is occasionally prescribed for patients struggling with narcolepsy; under the brand name of Xyrem.
  • GBL is a precursor to GHB, meaning when GBL is consumed it is turned into GHB in the body, effectively making the substances very similar when consumed. GBL is a chemical solvent used in industries to produce other chemicals.
  • GHB is commonly bought and sold in vials and bottles, and is made by mixing GBL with sodium hydroxide, or potassium hydroxide.
  • GHB is consumed orally, often times mixed in a soft drink.
  • Both GHB and GBL are clear, oily liquids.
    • GHB tastes slightly salty and bitter, and is typically odorless or has a mild salty odor, while GBL has a very strong chemical scent & taste.

GHB chemical structure

Effects may include:

  • Euphoria, nausea, blacking out or ‘G-ing out’, increased sex drive, dizziness, disinhibition, altered mood, clumsiness, altered perception of time, sleepiness, sweating, memory loss, auditory and visual hallucinations and confusion. GHB takes about 20-60 minutes to kick in, and lasts up to 2.5 hours, with after effects lasting up to 4 hours.

Addiction, Withdrawal & OD:

  • Addiction: GHB/GBL are addictive substances as they work on the GABA receptors and can provide users with positive, reinforcing feelings. To prevent the risk of addiction, try to keep your use spaced out and take breaks to avoid falling into a habit. If you do struggle with your use, resources are available and listed at the bottom of this post.
  • Withdrawal: Like with alcohol, benzos, and Z drugs- GHB/GBL withdrawal causes similar symptoms since they too work on GABA receptors. Withdrawal symptoms include: tremors, tingling sensations in extremities, anxiety, insomnia, sweats, psychosis, irritability, seizures, changes in appetite and sex drive, depression, mood swings, and cravings for the drug. These symptoms may persist for several days up to 2 weeks. In the cases of those suffering from drug withdrawal induced seizures, anti-epileptic medications and benzos may be prescribed to reduce the severity of said symptoms.
    • PAWS (Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome): characterizes symptoms such as cravings for the drug and depression- which may last long after the acute withdrawal symptoms have ended.
    • Kindling: Refers to the phenomena where the increased number of times a person experiences withdrawal from a particular drug, the more intense their withdrawal symptoms will be. Over time, their risk of experiencing extreme withdrawal is heightened if repeatedly withdrawing off of these drugs.

Overdoses on GHB/GBL: An overdose on GHB looks like: blue lips and/or fingers and feet, being non-responsive, immobility, passing out/falling asleep, gurgling sounds, labored breathing, shallow breaths and seizures. An overdose can take place within 15 minutes, and can lead to coma or death. A GHB overdose is a medical emergency. Contact your nearest emergency department if you suspect you, or someone around you is ODing on G. Place said person in the recovery position (so they don’t choke on vomit) and check their breathing until help arrives. If they stop breathing and you are trained, do CPR or rescue breaths until help arrives. What is Chem Sex: Chem sex (or sometimes called ‘party n’ play’ or PNP) is the combination of doing drug and having sex (whatever that looks like for you), this term for it originating in gay party scenes, though now used in many different communities to describe it. This can include any sort of sexual activity under the influence of one or more drugs at a time. Commonly, GHB/GBL are used, and/or Poppers (nitrites), methamphetamine, or mephedrone – but really it’s dependent on the preferences and experience level of the people partaking. (Check out this overview for uppers & sex or downers & sex!) Always get consent and check in with your partner(s) a LOT when engaging in chem sex and ensure everyone is having a great time and feels good and safe. Legally you can’t give consent when you’re not sober, though we know partiers frequently choose to party n play while giving full consent – it does mean that more convos and checking in along the way is essential. <3 Why, when, where, how? Why: People engage in chem sex as substances can heighten the experience, add novelty, increase comfort levels, aid in sexual pleasure and other reasons. GHB/GBL can increase sex drive, lower inhibitions & anxiety, reduce pain levels, allowing for potentially more adventurous activities in the bedroom. Drugs during intercourse can add an additional level of enjoyment, intimacy and altered sensory experience. When: Chem sex can take place whenever the participants are ready to engage in it! Consider set: what headspace are you in? Have you been exceptionally stressed the last few weeks? Are you dealing with any issues or traumas and will mixing substances, trigger, or help? Have you and your partner(s) used GHB/GBL before? Check in with yourself and your inner state to see how you are feeling, and encourage your partner(s) to do the same. Where: Consider setting when exploring chem sex: Is your physical surrounding safe, do you feel comfortable? Are you around people that you trust? Plan as you would for any other drug experience, and make sure to dose in a place you feel secure in. In the case of GHB/GBL, because they may make you clumsy, disoriented, dizzy, sleepy and nauseated (among other things)- having a safe, comfortable space that is soft- free of sharp objects and corners, fragile items, with lots of privacy is ideal. How: dosing GHB/GBL: There is no “standard” dose of GHB, as everyone, every batch and every day is different. 0.5ml to 2.5ml of GHB is the most common dose range, but be sure to take inventory on how you feel. Some may achieve their desired effects at lower doses, and others may be less sensitive and require more! Start with 0.5ml-1ml at a time and see how you feel before redosing – people do OD on GHB, so be mindful! Use a syringe to accurately measure how much G you are consuming. Often times, people may use a “capful” or a “swig” to dose – but this is inaccurate and can lead to an overdose. We have GHB and safer sex kits (which include a 3ml GHB dosing (needle-less) syringe, safer sex supplies, info, etc.) at the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center! Harm reduction tips:

  • Get your drugs tested! We collect samples of liquids, powders, pills, paper and even paraphernalia at:
    • Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centers (Parkdale or Queen & Bathurst sites)
    • South Riverdale Community Health Center
    • The Works at Toronto Public Health
    • Moss Park Consumption and Treatment Service
  • With GHB/GBL, allow at least an hour to pass before redosing. GHB can take 20-60 minutes to hit.
  • Leave mixing to the DJ! Try to stick to using only one drug at a time. If you do mix, keep your doses low and go slow. Be especially careful about mixing GHB with other downers like alcohol, opioids, benzos, etc. Check how you feel periodically and keep track of your doses.
  • Carry naloxone! In the case of an opioid overdose, naloxone can save a life! Keep it in a visible place and let folks in the space know where it is.
  • Consider what medications and supplements you’re on. Particular medications like allergy medications, sleeping aids, opioids and benzos can potentiate the effects of GHB/GBL and can be fatal. If on any stimulants, it may increase the risk of overdose, and the combination of an upper and downer gives the heart mixed signals which can be risky too.
  • Use condoms and lube! This can prevent unwanted pregnancy, STIs and injuries. We give out free condoms and lube at the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center!
  • Get yourself tested! It is important to get yourself tested if you’re sexually active to keep yourself and partner(s) safer. Here is a list of places where you can access anonymous STI testing:
    • LAMP Community Health Center
    • Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centers (Parkdale or Queen & Bathurst sites)
    • Planned Parenthood Toronto
    • The Village Pharmacy
    • Birth Control and Sexual Health Center
  • Communicate openly with partner(s) about boundaries and kinks. You can use the red/yellow/green system (red is stop, yellow is slow down/ease up/I need a minute, green is keep going), or using safe words in the cases of roleplay- so you and your partner(s) know when to stop. It’s important to discuss in the case of a black out what you/your partner(s) should do and how to handle that. Writing out a list of things you are and are not comfortable with may be a good idea, to be able to openly talk about what exactly you’re looking for and how you derive pleasure.

Resources to get help if you’re struggling to quit or cut down on GHB/GBL: Aboriginal Service Concurrent Addictions Inpatient Treatment Services Concurrent Outpatient Medical and Psychosocial Addiction Support Services Drug Treatment Court Services  Medical Withdrawal Unit Narcotics Anonymous Rainbow Services SMART Recovery Substance Abuse Program for African & Caribbean Youth Substance Use Service at Women’s College Hospital Youth Addiction and Concurrent Disorders Additional Resources: