By Terry Gotham
Every time issues of consent come up on the playa or in the regional Burner community, “date rape” drugs such as GHB are inevitably mentioned. To help people make smart choices both about what they do personally and what substances they want at their events, I spoke to Dr. Joseph Palamar at NYU, widely quoted expert on substance abuse & recreational drug use, to make sure the readers of Burners.me got the best information available about the drug. If y’all like this, let me know, and I’ll try to bring on more experts for these harm reduction posts.
GHB has largely become a boogeyman in the drug world. Even though it is the literal best case practice treatment for narcolepsy, it’s become associated with irresponsible choices & shady characters over the years. While many Burners enjoy it recreationally, the label of date rape drug has stuck and there’s a large gap in a lot of drug education and messaging surrounding it. Just because it’s assumed that the majority of the people using it are using it “on” other people doesn’t necessarily make it true. For everyone who isn’t trying to violate the consent of people on & off playa, here’s a quick set of frank tips that should serve you well if you’re trying to hang with Xyrem.
First and most importantly, understand potency the GHB solution you’re taking. Because it’s a prescription drug that’s usually dosed out in bottle caps and held independent of the bottle you get from your doctor, it’s very difficult to eyeball the stuff. This is not a substance that you’re able to guess, so don’t try. It’s not like pot where, if you think you’re smoking swag & you get some dope ish, you’re just a little more couch-based for a couple of hours. G will definitely fuck up your day/week/month/year if you don’t respect the fact that one liquid mixture could be 10x as potent as another.
Related to this, don’t re-dose. Period. I cannot stress this enough. GHB can act suddenly and can be exceptionally dangerous if you’re unsure of how much you’ve taken. Give yourself at least an hour to figure out how it affected you, without taking more of it or any other drug. If you’ve already taken other depressants, be exceptionally careful and think seriously about perhaps doing GHB another time.
Why can be explained by something the science people refer to as the drug’s dose-response curve. Each drug has a progression, whereby the more you take, the more effect you get. While this seems like common sense, it gets tricky once you realize that each drug’s curve is different. You can see a good example of this comparing seemingly “safe” drugs like alcohol with dangerous drugs, like NBOMe. NBOMe’s dose response curve is exceptionally steep, such that taking a tiny bit more, creates much larger effects. The same is true with GHB. Two doses of GHB can be much stronger than what you think 2x a single dose will be. This is why redosing is a terrible idea. Even if you feel the 1st dose was light, the second one may very well take you right over the edge, pushing you from buzzed to unconscious before you know what’s happening.
While some of these tips are generalizable for every drug, this next one is doubly important for GHB. If you’re at a party, make sure someone not on it, knows you’re on it. This is crucial for GHB. If you’re not supposed to go from boring to lovey-dovey with the whole world, make sure to tell your friend that. Feelings can change wildly on G, and that’s something that malevolent characters can take advantage of. If you haven’t had a discussion with your partner about boundaries & limits at the event before you’re on G, it’s almost impossible to figure them out once you’ve had your first capful.
Also, as Dr. Palamar emphasizes, the better/more euphoric you feel, the closer you are to passing out. Those glittery, shimmering states you hear G-fans rave about? That means you’re close to taking a nose dive, sometimes even only a minute or two away. A friend of mine in Philly hit that state, recognized it, and tried to get to his car to pass out. He woke up in the hospital because he passed out halfway through the parking lot and banged his head on a bumper. If you’re feeling woozy, or even before you start, make sure your friend/sitter knows where you are in the drug’s arc of effects.
Some people definitely fight the drug’s effects, and even use stimulants to stay awake. This is a possible way to fight the effects, but if you’ve never seen someone who is overstimulated but still falling asleep, it is a sight to behold. Sometimes, you’ve gotta accept the consequences of your recreational drug choice. Don’t slam coke or adderall to fight the sleep. Get walked to your car or put to bed by a trusted friend and just sleep it off. Being agitated & drowsy is only good for Instagram pictures and the ambient hilarity that is id-infused behavior on GHB & amphetamines.
From an interactional/pharmacology perspective, there’s a ton of important information that you need to know. Levels of GHB in your system can reach life threating levels if taken along with a protease inhibitor (such as ritonavir, a common AIDS prescription). Additionally, GHB combined with depressants such as alcohol & pain killers is very dangerous. There’s no faster way to crater into a bed or couch than by drinking while on G. Combining GHB with stimulants can result in erratic behavior, confusion and inability to modulate physical or social responses to stimuli. One thing Dr. Palamar stressed was, ketamine + GHB = bad news bears. Hopefully why is self evident, but for more info, check out this article from the Journal of the American Family Physician.
Most importantly, especially for GHB, be around people you trust. All users, male/female, gay/straight, become highly gullible and willing on it. Lots of people may think that sexual congress with someone unconscious is much worse than sex with someone who is wildly intoxicated, but that’s not always the case. Having unprotected or irresponsible sex with your ambient surroundings while on GHB can seem like a great idea while you’re up. However, the social & health-related reprecussions of this behavior are wide ranging. To be clear, giving someone GHB even consentually, if discovered by the law, has significant ramifications. You may say “she consented,” but if something goes bad, it’s your word against theirs. If you’re the one holding the bottle/cap, most cops will instantly label you a predator and then things become very bad, very quickly. Enthusiastic consent, protection & of course, not fucking the person too high to consent is the right course of action.
One last note, that kind of seems like a no-brainer, but it’s usually ignored until someone passes out at your house. If you store GHB at home, put food dye in it & clearly label the bottle, so no one consumes it accidentally. It’s super easy to make the mistake, and then you’ve taken 2 capfuls on an idle Tuesday, and pawing groggily at your spouse while you’re watching TV. Purple food dye & bold labeling goes a long way.
I’ve only known 2 people who loved GHB. One guy who made it himself, and another girl who was very fond of drinking it. She got the helicopter ride to Reno to save her life after ODing (yes, she drugged herself and no one was trying to rape her). She then escaped the hospital and hitched back to Burning Man, only to OD again on it a couple nights later.
A careless disregard for one’s own personal safety is a trait amongst many burners. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of really bad behavior, some resulting in permanent disabilities. But the party must go on.