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GHB, GBL or G is an industrial solvent that’s often used as a party drug. It is highly likely that Reynhard Sinaga used the drug to spike and then rape, hundreds of men in Manchester. Despite many downsides, it remains popular as a party drug.
The first time it became apparent the gay community might have a G problem was while swinging ’round Sydney’s Mardi Gras about 15 years ago. With two mates as sidekicks, we propped up bars, crashed parties and occasionally, went home with someone.
One night, we all got lucky. Lunch the following day was a post-romp rendezvous. You know, like the girls in Sex and the City. Except, Carrie never had to ponder the struggles of bedding a G casualty.
Carrie’s Manolos never kicked a howling naked man, fitting on her floor. She never had to monitor a twitching queen in a ‘coma’. Even Samantha escaped the loneliness of a threesome where two parties fell asleep mid-spit roast.
Navigating the moral maze incurred by GHB/GBL is a grim indictment of modern party habits. That year in Sydney, we were like disco nurses, tending to the chemically ill, in what seemed like an epidemic. It was hard work and we weren’t getting laid OR paid.
Such random medical volunteer work isn’t limited to Sydney. G-swilling mania and its consequent chaos can be found in San Fran, New York, Ibiza, Barcelona and of course, London. If the gays are there, so’s the G.
For those who’re untainted by this chemical underworld and have yet to be exposed to the messier end of clubbing, GBL (gamma-Butyrolactone) is an industrial solvent. Yes, you read that right. It’s used for cleaning computer screens, removing graffiti, dissolving superglue, stripping paint and er, getting high.
When taken, the body quickly converts the drug into another compound called GHB (gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid). Confusingly, GHB is a naturally occurring substance found in the human central nervous system.
Some G-heads would argue that this makes the drug ‘safe’ and ‘natural’ – but flooding your body with a nervous system depressant via a solvent bought online is hardly organic, nor without considerable risks.
GHB was legal in the UK until 2003. It could be snapped up in sex shops and was sold as Liquid Ecstasy. It made a brief foray into gay clubs in the late ‘90s, but hospitalised so many clubbers in one weekend at Turnmills that it fell out of favour very quickly.
Aside from the inconvenience of waking up in A&E, it’s possible that the abundance of high quality ecstasy pills at the time, made GHB quite redundant. Back then, clubbers were understandably sniffy about the drug.
It was viewed as dirty, cheap and horribly contrary to the loved-up vibes of the clubs at the time. G users brought trauma and people in uniforms into the club, which always proves a buzz kill. Fast forward to the present day and pills are widely viewed as unreliable and skanky, while in some circles, G is de rigueur.
One weekend, I found myself at ‘chill-out’ in south London. After taking G, six men overdosed simultaneously. As the only one standing, I snapped into action, checking they weren’t choking on their own tongues, feeling pulses and delivering the odd slap.
They were all nude, vulnerable, yet frightening. Some gurgled, ticked and squealed like babies. Others were silent, eyes rolling in sockets, like pickled quail’s eggs.
When they recovered, almost all at the same time, did they thank me for keeping them alive? No. They just started humping each other; chemical zombies, yearning and gurning. My weary experience in this field rendered this mis en scene as quite unremarkable- and that’s the sickest part of the story.
It SHOULD have been shocking. It IS shocking. Ambulance rides, pipettes, clocks, spasms and syringes have become disco business in an evolution of recreational indulgence that makes smoking a joint seem medieval.
The gays can proudly claim to be ‘early adopters’ of GHB/GBL and have sustained enthusiasm for this thoroughly industrial phenomenon. It’s bought online, doses can be timed via smart phone, and then voila, your body is a 21st century volatile laboratory.
It’s dystopian, reckless, recession proof and in some quarters, bang on trend. Less fashionably, people have died.
Have I tried it? Of course. I’m not proud of this. Nor is it an indulgence I’d seek out in a hurry. For starters, taking the drug while there’s still alcohol in your body is a potentially lethal hors d’oeuvre.
As an unrepentant boozer, I’d rather not worry a sherry might cause vomiting, an inconvenient coma or death. Most fatalities connected to GBL are a result of adding alcohol to the equation. And I’m never far away from a cocktail.
Using GBL requires discipline, moderation and extreme caution. These are qualities found in very few clubbers and almost entirely absent in yours truly. Dose of G? It’s a no from me.
It’s a curiously anti-social drug, especially when taken in clubs. It can lower one’s inhibitions, but it can cause your standards to plummet.
I’ve seen a friend hump a bollard in broad daylight and watched a stranger masturbate in a pool of beer in the corner of a pub. No matter how erotic the user feels at the time, it’s never sexy to watch those in the throes of a G fit. It’s not uncommon to see people lap dancing on an imagined punter, while licking their own face and yanking at their genitals.
This heightened state of arousal can lead to a range of unwise choices. Memory is likely to be limited. The drug can leave the user carefree and blind to consequences. Unfortunately, this liquid dose of denial and escape doesn’t leave you immune to STIs. G can easily render the user unable to make choices at all, and if used by a predator, vulnerable to sexual abuse.
G boasts a fine line between dose and overdose. One milligram of GBL can cause euphoria, while just one and a half milligrams can induce sleep. For added chaos, it’s also cumulative, hence the need to leave long gaps between doses.
Due to its unpredictability, it’s both cavalier and rude to take the drug in a public space, but many are happy to fling this lunacy at unsuspecting bystanders. At gay raves, it’s common to see a G user collapse, spend hours with them in a medic room, then witness them take another dose as soon as they’ve recovered.
Clubbing used to be about dancing, unity and shaking off one’s cares, not sweating in an ambulance, praying your friend stays alive. This is not what Kylie had in mind when she sang, ‘Your Disco Needs You’.
As recreational use of GBL is a fairly new phenomenon, it’s impossible to predict the long term effects of using the drug. Dr James Bell, head of the Party Drugs Clinic at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM), reported in Medical News Today that GBL withdrawal should be viewed as a medical emergency.
Dr Bell reported that most patients at his clinic were shocked to find they’d become dependent in just a few months or sometimes weeks, unaware of GBL’s addictive qualities.
“Patients frequently lament, ‘I didn’t know it was addictive’. Most doctors and policy makers are equally unaware that these new drugs can be addictive, and withdrawal can be life threatening.”
For most people, the idea of substance use with entirely erratic results is a risk too far, but for some, the unknown IS the thrill. Downing GBL is akin to roulette; it could lead to grubby sex, a gibbering high, deep sleep, or a holiday on a life support machine.
Despite health campaigns, date-rape media scares and a procession of funerals, GBL remains irresistible to a persistent crowd. Where this will lead is anybody’s guess, but people seem happy to live with the risks. As any gambler in Vegas will tell you, ‘Keep spinning that wheel and chasing the buzz, but eventually, your luck runs out’.
First published in Attitude July 2013