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GHB, GBL or G is an industrial solvent that’s often used as a party drug. The gays love it, it’s very unpredictable and it can kill. Despite the downsides, it remains horribly popular, says Stewart Who?
The first time it became apparent the gay community might have a G problem was while swinging around Sydney’s Mardi Gras a few years ago. With two reprobates as sidekicks, we propped up bars, crashed parties and occasionally, enjoyed a romantic interlude.
One night, we all got lucky, then met up for lunch the following day for a post-romp gossip- you know, like the girls in Sex and the City. Except, Ms Bradshaw never pondered the dilemmas posed by bedding a G casualty.
Carrie’s Manolos never kicked a spasmodic hottie fitting on her floor. She never had to monitor a twitching man in a ‘coma’ that no slap could put asunder. Even Samantha escaped the loneliness of a threesome where two parties fell asleep mid-spit roast.
What does one do in such circumstances? Call an ambulance? Dump them outside for foxes to chew at their face? Film the episode and upload it to Tumblr? It’s a tough call.
Navigating the moral maze incurred by GHB/GBL is a grim indictment of contemporary party habits. That year in Sydney, we wound up like disco nurses, hopping from house to house, tending to the chemically sick, in what seemed like an epidemic. We weren’t getting laid and we weren’t getting paid.
Such spontaneous volunteer work isn’t limited to Sydney. G-swilling mania and its consequent mayhem can be found in San Francisco, New York, Ibiza, Barcelona and of course, London. If the gays are there, so is 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 seen as dirty, cheap and horribly contrary to the loved-up vibes of the clubs at the time. Fast forward to the present day and pills are widely viewed as unreliable and skanky, while G is de rigueur.
One weekend last year, I found myself at ‘chill-out’ in south London. After taking G, six men overdosed simultaneously. As the only one still standing, I snapped into action, checking they weren’t choking on their own tongues, checking pulses and delivering the odd slap.
They were all utterly naked, vulnerable, yet frightening. Some gurgled and squealed like babies. Others were silent, eyes rolling in sockets, like pickled quail’s eggs.
When they recovered, did they thank me for keeping them alive? No. They just started humping each other; chemical zombies, hungry for penis. My weary experience in this field rendered this mis en scene as quite unremarkable- and that’s the sickest part.
It SHOULD have been shocking. It IS shocking. Ambulance rides, pipettes, stop watches, spasms and verbal tics have casually become disco accessories 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 modern 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, queerly 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 it. 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 tipple might cause unsightly 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 wine glass.
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. Yes, it can lower one’s inhibitions, but it can cause your standards to plummet. This is especially woeful if you’re not overly choosy in the first place.
I’ve seen a friend hump a concrete 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 people in the throes of a G fit.
It’s not uncommon to see people lap dancing on an imaginary punter, while licking their own forehead and yanking at their genitals.
This heightened state of arousal can lead to a range of unwise choices. You might suck off a tramp, while being rimmed by a stray dog or simply have hours of bareback sex at a sauna.
Memories of such incidents are likely to be limited. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal; how can you be ashamed, when you can’t remember the crime? G tends to leave the user irresponsible, blind to consequences and therefore free of guilt. Unfortunately, this solvent-shaped dose of denial doesn’t leave you immune to STDs.
G boasts very 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 seems rude to take the drug while out in public, but many are happy to inflict potential chaos on innocent bystanders. It’s common, but utterly LOL-free to watch someone collapse, spend hours with them in a medic room, then watch 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 a friend stays alive. This is not the kinda punter that 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 fuels the thrill. Downing GBL is akin to chemical roulette; it could lead to grubby sex, a gibbering high, deep sleep, or a spell on a life support machine.
Despite health campaigns, media scares and a raft of funerals, taking chances with GBL is proving irresistible to a persistent crowd. Where this will lead is anybody’s guess, but as any gambler in Vegas will tell you, keep spinning that wheel and eventually, your luck will run out.
First published in Attitude July 2013