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What happens in our body when we ingest GHB

What happens in our body when we ingest GHB This substance, initially intended for medical use, is increasingly used for criminal purposes to drug victims without their knowledge, hence its nickname "rape drug". Its harmful effects are feared, but do you know its mode of action on the body?

The #balancetonbar movement, born a few months ago in Belgium, is spreading like wildfire on French social networks to denounce sexual assaults committed on young women who have taken narcotics involuntarily.

The majority of testimonies are consistent:they entered a trance after drinking just a few sips of alcohol and often wake up with a black hole feeling the next day.

Even if many different psychoactive molecules could be poured into their drink – Stilnox, Valium, Xanax...-, GHB is systematically cited as a probable weapon of chemical submission. This drug is indeed particularly scary because it is odourless, colorless and quickly eliminated by the body , hence the difficulty of filing a complaint a few days later.

GHB, a versatile narcotic

GHB – or Gamma HydroxuButyrate – spreads quickly through the body and easily enters the brain.

Within five to fifteen minutes of being ingested, it is already binding to specific receptors – specifically GabaB receptors. – present on the surface of neurons, particularly in the brain region involved in pleasure and reward.

Once these targets are reached, it modulates brain activity as it pleases, with different effects depending on the amount of drug absorbed.

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euphoriant or inhibitor

At low doses (up to 1g taken), GHB blocks the action of GABA, a neurotransmitter that inhibits the activity of the central nervous system. So we feel a little dizzy but above all more open to others and more playful. Motivation is also increased because the synthesis of dopamine - the cerebral hormone of well-being and pleasure - is immediately boosted. This is the effect sought by people who knowingly take GHB in rave parties to uninhibit yourself and feel the music more strongly.

At higher doses (from 2g), GHB has the opposite effect:it reinforces the production of GABA, which reduces the production of dopamine and slows down the activity of many brain circuits. The brain being numb , drowsiness wins. Muscle strength decreases, which makes it difficult to defend yourself in the event of an attack. The digestive system slips, hence the possible appearance of nausea and vomiting.

"The blood vessels also dilate, which reduces blood pressure, as well as oxygenation of the body and the brain", notes Professor David Nutt, neuro-pharmacologist at Imperial College London. In case of overdose, breathing difficulties, convulsions or coma may also occur.

GBL (gamma-butyrolactone), an industrial solvent, also causes the same effects because once absorbed, it is transformed in the body into GHB. Its association with alcohol can be fatal. A beer is enough to multiply its misdeeds tenfold.

A quick-elimination that makes detection difficult

GHB does not last long in the body. It is rapidly broken down and eliminated through urine, which is why its effects rarely last longer than two to six hours.

It is therefore only detectable in the blood a few hours after taking it and up to 12 hours later in the urine. If in doubt, it is better to go quickly to a laboratory or hospital to take a sample for toxicological analysis.

Only hair analysis – hair test – can detect its fleeting presence in the body several weeks later. This can be carried out by a forensic institute as part of a judicial investigation.

Possible long-term sequelae

Although GHB dissipates fairly quickly, ingesting large doses of it is not innocent.

Contrary to popular belief, it can indeed generate lesions in the brain likely to induce cognitive disorders, according to a study from the University of Amsterdam, published in 2018 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

" A decline in long-term memory, a decrease in Intelligence Quotient (IQ), depression or latent anxiety can result, especially in regular users who have already fallen into a coma", explains Filipa Raposo Pereira, main co-author of this study.

Research published in NeuroImage Clinical suggest that verbal memory is notably altered, with changes in activity in certain regions of the brain (decreased activity of the hippocampus and hyperactivity of the prefrontal cortex).

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