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Trendy Drug Goes Club Hopping
August 11, 1996

From Correspondent Susan Reed

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- Raves are to the '90s what disco was to the '70s -- midnight-until-dawn dance-a-thons where the beat is techno. Apparently, it's not enough excitement for some revelers.

GHB, or liquid ecstasy, is sweeping the club and bar scene. It's fairly easy to get and relatively cheap. But experts warn: It's also very dangerous. Ecstasy is the drug most often associated with raves but, since it became classified as a controlled substance under federal law, it's harder to obtain. GHB was sold in health food stores until federal officials pulled it from the shelves in 1990.

Some users compare the drug to drinking alcohol. But it can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol -- especially beer. GHB gives "a nice high, you feel kinda drunk," said one young man at a rave. "All your sensual body is awakened for like an hour."

At least two people have reportedly died after consuming GHB, and emergency rooms around the country have reported a rise in cases linked to the drug. "As one goes to higher doses, it's very easy to get into trouble with it -- coma, seizures. There are a couple of reports of respiratory arrest," pharmacist Gant Galloway said. "People have almost died, and would have without prompt medical attention."

Users generally mix a capful of GHB into a bottle of water, then pass it around. The dosage, purity and the body chemistry of the user all vary. "Something that might give a mild, soporific effect at 1 1/2 grams will cause sudden unconsciousness when that dosage is increased by only the slightest amount," said William J. Mitchell of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

The DEA hopes to have GHB classified as an illegal narcotic, similar to cocaine. [Erowid Note : GHB was placed in federal schedule I in March 2000, making it illegal to possess or sell without a license] Two states, Rhode Island and Georgia, already have taken steps to control it.

In Europe, some doctors use GHB as a surgical anesthetic. In the United States, it is used experimentally to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy and heroin and alcohol addiction. Most of the drug available on the streets and in the clubs is made in illegal labs. GHB is so new, experts say, that few are aware of its danger. And at the raves, it's becoming the rage.