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Rohypnol, Gamma hydroxybutyrate -- GHB -- drug fact sheet


Drug-facilitated rape is defined as sexual assault made easier by the offender's use of an anesthetic-type drug that renders the victim physically incapacitated or helpless and unable to consent to sexual activity. Whether the victim is unwittingly administered the drug or willingly ingests it for recreational use is irrelevant -- the person is victimized because of their inability to consciously consent to sexual acts.

Rohypnol and Gamma hydroxybutyrate -- GHB -- are two of the most common substances used in drug-facilitated sexual assaults.


Rohypnol is the trade name for flunitrazepam. It has been a concern for the last few years because of its abuse as a "date rape" drug. People may unknowingly be given the drug that, when mixed with alcohol, can incapacitate victims and prevent them from resisting sexual assault. Also, Rohypnol can be lethal when mixed with alcohol and/or other depressants.

Rohypnol produces sedative-hypnotic effects including muscle relaxation and amnesia; it can also produce dependence. Rohypnol is not approved for use in the United States and its importation is banned. Illicit use of Rohypnol began in Europe in the 1970s and started appearing in the United States in the early 1990s, where it became known as "rophies," "roofies," "roach," "rope," and the "date rape" drug.

Another very similar drug is clonazepam, marketed in the U.S. as Klonopin and in Mexico as Rivotril. It is sometimes abused to enhance the effects of heroin and other opiates.

Gamma hydroxybutyrate -- GHB

Gamma hydroxybutyrate -- GHB -- is a powerful, rapidly acting central nervous system depressant. It was first synthesized in the 1920s and was under development as an anesthetic agent in the 1960s. GHB is produced naturally by the body in small amounts but its physiological function is unclear.

GHB was sold in health food stores as a performance-enhancing additive in bodybuilding formulas until the Food and Drug Administration banned it in 1990. It is currently marketed in some European countries as an adjunct to anesthesia. GHB is abused for its ability to produce euphoric and hallucinogenic states and for its alleged function as a growth hormone that releases agents to stimulate muscle growth. GHB became a Schedule I Controlled Substance in March 2000.

In the United States, GHB is produced in clandestine laboratories with no guarantee of quality or purity, making its effects less predictable and more difficult to diagnose. GHB can be manufactured with inexpensive ingredients and using recipes on the Internet. Gamma butyrolactone -- GBL -- and 1,4-butanediol are analogs of GHB that can be substituted for it. Once ingested, these analogs convert to GHB and produce identical effects. GBL, an industrial solvent, is used as an immediate precursor in the clandestine production of GHB. The FDA has issued warnings for both GBL and 1,4-butanediol, stating that the drugs have a potential for abuse and are a public health danger.


GHB is usually taken orally. It is sold as a light-colored powder that easily dissolves in liquids or as a pure liquid packaged in vials or small bottles. In liquid form, it is clear, odorless, tasteless, and almost undetectable when mixed in a drink. GHB is typically consumed by the capful or teaspoonful at a cost of $5 to $10 per dose. The average dose is 1 to 5 grams and takes effect in 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the dosage and purity of the drug. Its effects last from three to six hours.

Consumption of less than 1 gram of GHB acts as a relaxant, causing a loss of muscle tone and reduced inhibitions. Consumption of 1 to 2 grams causes a strong feeling of relaxation and slows the heart rate and respiration. At this dosage level, GHB also interferes with blood circulation, motor coordination, and balance. In stronger doses, 2 to 4 grams, pronounced interference with motor and speech control occurs. A coma-like sleep may be induced, requiring intubation to wake the user. When mixed with alcohol, the depressant effects of GHB are enhanced. This can lead to respiratory depression, unconsciousness, coma, and overdose.

Side effects associated with GHB may include nausea, vomiting, delusions, depression, vertigo, hallucinations, seizures, respiratory distress, loss of consciousness, slowed heart rate, lowered blood pressure, amnesia and coma. GHB can become addictive with sustained use.

According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, GHB emergency department mentions have increased from 56 in 1994 to 3,340 in 2001.

GHB-related deaths have occurred in several Community Epidemiology Work Group sites. In 1999, there were three reported deaths involving GHB in Texas and two in Minnesota. Missouri has reported five GHB-related deaths and two near deaths in which GHB was used to facilitate rapes. In Florida, during 2000, GHB was detected in 23 deaths and identified as the cause of death in 6 cases. Since 1990, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has documented more than 15,600 overdoses and law enforcement encounters and 72 deaths relating to GHB.

Prevalence estimates

GHB is often ingested with alcohol by young adults and teens at nightclubs and parties. It is used as a pleasure enhancer that depresses the central nervous system and induces intoxication. It also can be used as a sedative to reduce the effects of stimulants (cocaine, methamphetamine, ephedrine) or hallucinogens (LSD, mescaline) and to prevent physical withdrawal symptoms.

Regional observations

According to Community Epidemiology Work Group, as of 2001, 15 CEWG areas reported increases in GHB indicators. They were Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Newark, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., reported stable GHB indicators. Only two CEWG sites, Detroit and New Orleans, reported declines in GHB indicators. Most CEWG areas report that GHB is frequently used in combination with alcohol, causing users to overdose.

In 2000, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center, GHB availability was stable or increasing in nearly every DEA Field Division and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Many areas reported that the increased availability of GHB occurred in concert with a rise in rave activity. Law enforcement also reported increases in the number of cases involving GHB analogs.

According to Pulse Check: Trends in Drug Abuse, GHB users and sellers tend to be between the ages of 18 and 30. Most users are middle-class white males. GHB is typically packaged in plastic bottles (mostly water or sports drink bottles) and distributed by the capful for $5–$20 per dose. Additional packaging includes eyedropper bottles, glass vials and mouthwash bottles.

Drug-facilitated rape

Drug-facilitated rape is defined as sexual assault made easier by the offender's use of an anesthetic-type drug that renders the victim physically incapacitated or helpless and unable to consent to sexual activity. Whether the victim is unwittingly administered the drug or willingly ingests it for recreational use is irrelevant--the person is victimized because of their inability to consciously consent to sexual acts.

According to National Drug Intelligence Center, GHB has surpassed Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) as the most common substance used in drug-facilitated sexual assaults. GHB can mentally and physically paralyze an individual, and these effects are intensified when the drug is combined with alcohol.

It is difficult to estimate the incidence of drug-facilitated rape involving GHB. Victims may not seek help until days after the assault, in part because the drug impairs their memory and in part because they may not identify signs of sexual assault. GHB is only detectable in a person's system for a limited amount of time and, if the victim does not seek immediate help, the opportunity to detect the drug can quickly pass. Also, law enforcement agencies may not be trained to gather necessary evidence and may not be using equipment that is sensitive enough to test for the drug.

Street terms for GHB include:

* Cherry Meth
* Liquid X
* Fantasy
* Organic quaalude
* Salty water
* Georgia home boy
* Scoop
* Great hormones at bedtime
* Sleep-500
* Grievous bodily harm
* Soap
* Liquid E
* Somatomaz
* Liquid Ecstasy
* Vita-G


August 2003