What are Club Drugs?

Club drugs (also sometimes called Dance Drugs or Designer Drugs) are drugs which at one time were found most frequently in night clubs and at raves, but have since become some of the fastest growing drugs used by college students. These drugs include MDMA (ecstasy, E, or X), ketamine (special K), GHB (liquid ecstasy, somatomax, scoop, Georgia Home Boy, grievous bodily harm), and crystal methamphetamine (speed, crank, crystal, tina).

What is GHB?

GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) is typically an odorless, colorless liquid, with a slightly salty taste. It is classified as a sedative and is in the same drug family as Rohypnol and ketamine.

GHB is used as a general anesthetic in Europe. In the US, the FDA approved GHB for use in the treatment of narcolepsy (a sleep disorder) in 2002. This approval came with severe restrictions, including its use only for the treatment of narcolepsy and the requirement of a patient registry monitored by the FDA.

It has been used in this country as a date rape drug: it can be slipped into a victim's drink, causing dizziness, confusion, drowsiness and sometimes loss of consciousness. When GHB is combined with alcohol, it is especially dangerous because the combination of two depressants can lead to overdose. Before the use of GHB was restricted, it was marketed to bodybuilders as a product to release growth hormone and build muscles. There is no evidence that it produces this effect. GHB was also marketed as an "herbal" supplement to help with sleep and depression.

Researchers do not know precisely how GHB affects neurochemistry; however, it is seen as a very powerful sedative because small doses can lead to serious effects, such as loss of consciousness. Evidence suggests that it easily crosses the blood-brain barrier -- the physiological mechanism that regulates the release of chemicals and nutrients into the brain. Therefore, it has an ability to act on the brain directly in a way that other drugs do not.

How is GHB used?

GHB is generally taken in a liquid form, though it is sometimes found in powder, tablet, or capsules. Since in its liquid form the strength of GHB varies, and people's reactions to it vary, it is very easy to take a dangerous dose of this drug. The effects of the drug begin 10 to 20 minutes after taking it and last up to 4 hours.

Why do people take GHB?

GHB can produce hallucinations and feelings of relaxation and euphoria. People who use GHB also report feeling increased energy, feeling affectionate and sociable, mild disinhibition and enhanced sexual experience.

Are there short-term risks to taking GHB?

Health risks include nausea, loss of coordination, difficulty concentrating, and loss of gag reflex. Because doses are difficult to quantify, overdose can occur quite easily, especially when combined with alcohol. Warning sings of GHB overdose can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Severe headache
  • Very slow breathing and heart rate
  • Withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, tremors and sweating
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Because of the risk of overdose, GHB may be the most dangerous club drug in terms of its immediate consequences. GHB has caused 73 GHB related deaths since 1995. GHB emergency room admissions nearly quadrupled nationwide between 1998 and 2000, when 4,969 cases were reported.

Because GHB leaves the body's system relatively quickly, it is not easily detected by medical tests. It is important to tell a medical provider that you have been using GHB so that you can get appropriate medical help.

GHB can easily be slipped into someone's drink undetected. If you start to feel symptoms that don't make sense with what you are drinking, get help immediately.

Remember that illegal drugs are produced in underground labs and you can never be sure what's in the drug or how strong it is. Making GHB from a recipe is also extremely dangerous as, a number of people who did not formulate GHB correctly, have burned their mouths, throats, and esophagi with what was essentially an acid compound.

Are there long-term consequences to taking GHB?

No long-term research has been done on GHB's impact on the brain yet, but because it's such a powerful sedative, it most likely affects the brain's memory and learning functions. Recent work has shown that GHB is highly addictive when used over extended periods of time (see below).

How do I recognize a problem with GHB?

Some of the signs of problem use are:

  • You use it more frequently.
  • You need more and more to get the same effect.
  • You become preoccupied with using it.
  • You spend more money than you have on getting the drug.
  • You miss class, fail to complete assignments, or miss other obligations.
  • You make new friends who do it and neglect old friends who don't.
  • You find it's hard to be happy or to relax without it.
  • You have headaches or trouble sleeping without it.
  • If you find that you can't stop using GHB, remember, there's help available.

Is GHB addictive?

Repeated use of GHB may lead to withdrawal effects, including insomnia, anxiety and tremors. Experiencing withdrawal is one of the signs of addiction. There are not a lot of statistics on GHB abuse, but the available information suggests that GHB abuse is growing. There are a number of reported cases of GHB addiction and it appears that once someone is addicted, GHB is harder to kick than cocaine or heroin. Treatment options remain limited. Because of the severity of withdrawal symptoms from GHB, it's imperative to have professional help when detoxing from GHB. Withdrawal can include delirium, disorientation, and hallucinations that may last up to two weeks.

Is GHB illegal?

GHB use is legal only when it is prescribed to someone for the treatment of narcolepsy. Other types of  possession, use, manufacture and sale carry heavy prison sentences and fines and disciplinary consequences at UCSC.

How do I help a friend who's having trouble with drugs?

If you are concerned about a friend's drug or alcohol use, this page contains helpful information about different ways to help them.

Resources at UCSC

Emergency response available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Student Health Outreach & Promotion (SHOP)
SHOP provides confidential appointments for drug or alcohol concerns. SHOP is located in the Student Health Center, across the street from Colleges 9 & 10. As you walk up the ramp to the Health Center, SHOP is located in the building on your left, next to the Pharmacy.

Student Health Services
Confidential walk-in or appointment health care

Counseling & Psychological Services
CPS staff provides the UCSC community with a wide range of mental health services, including short-term individual and couples counseling, group counseling, crisis assessment and intervention, and referral services.

Resources in Santa Cruz

Recovery Wave
Santa Cruz County's Alcohol and Drug Abuse help pages. If you think that you, a family member, or a friend has an alcohol or drug problem, you've come to the right place.

Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

Narcotics Anonymous
831-429-7436 HOTLINE (24 hour) 
Call for current open meeting schedules. Disabled Accessibility. 

Marijuana Anonymous
P.O. Box 1481
Santa Cruz, CA 95061 
SC Hotline/Meetings: 
Self-help (non-religious) fellowship group for those who cannot control their marijuana use and are experiencing adverse effects in other areas of their life. No fee is charged.



Links You Can Use

Project GHB 
This educational website provides information on the dangers of GHB, drugs that are similar to GHB and help for addiction.

Dance Safe
Dance Safe is a harm-reduction web site centered on drugs found in nightclubs and raves. The site offers drug information, a risk assessment, ecstasy testing kits and e-news.

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Dug Information 
NCADI provides alcohol and drug facts, research briefs and related resources. This is a link to a report on GHB abuse in the US.