G – both GHB and its more potent precursor GBL, which is converted into GHB in the body – is a sex drug. The appeal is easy to see: The effects feel like being drunk without the sloppiness, with the blissful euphoria of ecstasy thrown in. And horniness; manic horniness. When you fuck on G, it feels like you’ve got an extra dick.
Sounds like the perfect recreational drug, right? Well, no: the Class B drug is highly risky. Less than a millilitre can be the difference between a good time and a dangerous – even lethal – blackout (also known as “G’ing out”).
Historically, G was known as a date rape drug and as a drug that was almost exclusively taken by queer men and those in the chemsex scene. Getting solid stats on the G-using demographic is currently impossible – it doesn’t appear in the latest official government drug stats nor the Global Drugs Survey. But drug experts and people in the scene say that G usage is now spreading to non-LGBTQ clubs, parties and music festivals.
“For a long time it was a drug that specifically cis-gendered gay men used,” says Berlin-based drag queen Pansy, who runs a harm reduction service called Let’s Talk About Sex and Drugs. “That has definitely changed in recent years – now I see a lot more cis-gender female club-goers and queer kids of different genders using it too.”
“I think G is spreading a lot,” Ignacio Labayen de Inza, co-founder of a harm reduction charity Controlling Chemsex, tells VICE. “Before, all the people struggling with G that the charity helped came from big cities. Now we are supporting people who live in small villages too.”
Still, G-focused harm reduction messaging is often aimed at gay men. “The big difference [now] is that it's a lot of younger people [using G] who don't necessarily know exactly what they're doing,” Pansy notes. “Unfortunately there's not a lot of useful information for them to know how to take it more safely.” If you’ve decided you’re going to use G – no stigma or judgement here – here are some things you should know.
Know the risks of G
G is usually swallowed in liquid form, either directly into the mouth or mixed with strong-tasting soft drinks to mask the taste (GBL, in particular, tastes like a cross between battery acid and bleach). The Sun might call it “liquid ecstasy”, but it has a far higher harm score than MDMA, as well as ketamine, LSD and magic mushrooms. The optimum dose, which will give you the best threesome of your life, is not far away from the dose that will give you the last threesome of your life.
“One of the risks of GHB and GBL is that they cause big effects with small doses,” says Professor Owen Bowden-Jones, a consultant psychiatrist at the NHS’s Club Drug Clinic. “A few millilitres of GHB can cause someone to be very sedated. While some people who use GHB learn to judge their dose carefully to achieve the desired effects, it is easy to get this wrong.”
“Many people who use GHB measure their dose using a syringe to make sure it is accurate but even then can get it wrong,” he cautions. “Getting it wrong and becoming deeply sedated puts the person at real risk of harm. Not only can they stop breathing or choke on their own vomit, but they are also vulnerable to assault and robbery.”
According to Bowden-Jones, another consideration to bear in mind is that G “appears to be highly addictive”. People using the drug have reported withdrawal symptoms such as craving, sweating and shaking even after using it for short periods. “It can usually take weeks or months to become dependent, although I have seen people experience withdrawals after a few weeks of heavy use,” he says. “This is an unusually quick dependence compared to most drugs.”
At the NHS Club Drug Clinic, he regularly treats people who struggle to quit G – usually people who have developed heavy dependence and significant tolerance to the drug. “The risks [of withdrawing from G without medical intervention] include shaking, sweating, confusion, racing heart, seizures and collapse,” he says. “Severe GHB withdrawals are a medical emergency and someone experiencing these symptoms should be taken straight to A&E or an ambulance called.”
Don’t drink or take downers if you’re doing G
“I always suggest starting with just that drug and only that drug,” Pansy says. “Don't mix it with any other drugs until you're familiar with knowing what that drug does to your body because everybody reacts differently.” Most of all, never take a shot of G if you’ve consumed downers like alcohol, ket or benzos – that’s a recipe for disaster.
Adam, a 25-year-old straight guy who works in digital marketing, takes G on nights out, but even he went under in a club the first time he took it. What advice would he give? “Doing it when you’ve had a drink is not a safe thing to do,” he says. “Call for the ambulance if someone looks like they’re in a difficult situation.”
He also emphasises the importance of keeping track of your doses. “Logging [your shots] is a really good thing to do,” he says. “That has kept me out of trouble quite a lot. Don't just assume that you’ll be able to remember [when your last dose was].”
Measure out your dose of G carefully
If someone is measuring you a shot of G, ask yourself this question: Do I trust this person with my life? If the answer is “no”, fuck that – carefully measure out that shot yourself. If you’re too wrecked to do that, you’re too wrecked to take G. “The exact number of people overdosing on GHB is poorly understood,” Bowden-Jones says. “It is not routinely tested for in A&E and so hospital records don't give a true picture of how big the problem is.”
Tom, a 30-year-old man who uses G in clubs, emphasises the importance of starting slow. “Take half a millilitre and let’s see how you feel in an hour and a half.” According to harm reduction information on the NHS website, “a typical dose varies between 0.5ml to 1.5ml”. But individual differences – your size, tolerance, setting, the purity of the product, how much you’ve had to sleep, etc. – play such a big part that there could never be a one-size-fits-all dose. “Everyone reacts differently,” the NHS adds. “Even a very little dose, below one millimetre, could lead to an overdose without any warning.”
Some users set an alarm on their phones so they know when they can redose. Pansy agrees: “Start with a lower dose and see how that makes you feel – with GHB, it's important to wait at least 90 minutes before taking the next dose.”
A club, though, is often too loud to hear smartphone alarms. Tom advises to “take your phone and save a random number, like 0006 for example, and every time you have a shot, you call that number so you keep records”.
Measuring G in a club using a syringe can be challenging, but it must be done. “If you’re in a club, you’re having fun and you want to get high but you don’t have the way to measure it, the temptation is to just try a bit, ” Adam says. “But I’d say try to find someone who has a way to measure it.”
“And don't use plastic pipettes,” Pansy adds, pointing out that the measurement numbers can wear off in a hot environment like a sweaty club. “Use proper pipettes, glass ones with chemical-safe printing on them so that you can see the dosage.”
“I'm also a big fan of testing drugs for the first time outside of settings like that; maybe just with one or two friends, somewhere safer at a house or wherever – so that you’re familiar with what's going to happen before you put yourself in a situation where you can't control the external factors, like the craziness of a party.”
Look after your friends
Nobody knows exactly how high the UK death toll is – it doesn’t get a mention in government drug death statistics. In 2017, a study of London coroners’ data published in the Forensic Science International journal found that deaths from GHB or GBL in the city had risen by 119 percent between 2014 and 2015. A total of 61 deaths were recorded between 2011 and 2015; 29 of them occurred in 2015. On average that year, one person died every 12 days across east, north and south London (data wasn’t available for west). “The problem is if someone dies, unless they are specifically asked to do a G test, the hospital will not do a G test,” Labayen de Inza explains.
The risk profile of G means that everyone I spoke to stressed the importance of not doing the drug on your own and keeping an eye out for mates. “Going under can be life-threatening, so don't take any chances,” Bowden-Jones says. If a friend collapses, you need to know what to do: “Firstly, check to see whether they are conscious,” he says. “Do they respond when you try to wake them? If not, check whether they are breathing and if they have a pulse. If they don't, you need to call an ambulance and start CPR. If they are breathing and have a pulse but are unconscious, move them into the recovery position and call an ambulance.”
If you are going to take G, you need to be clued up and realistic about the risks: it can be addictive, it’s hard to dose and fucking that up would be life-threatening. “It’s a funny one,” G user Adam says. “Because you’re writing an article about how to use it safely but it’s not a safe drug, is it?”
For more harm reduction resources about G, head to the following sites: