What is GBL

Recently, there’s been an increase in harm caused by G-type substances in New Zealand. Here’s how you can stay safer…

High Alert has been keeping an eye on the increase in harm related to GBL, GHB and 1,4-BD use in New Zealand. While we have previously seen increased harm, these most recent instances have been particularly prevalent in the Auckland region.

To make sure you never miss a notification about serious drug harm in your community, please subscribe to updates. This will help keep you safer.

Stay safer by staying informed. Sign up to receive alerts and notifications about any dangerous drugs in NZ. Check out the alerts page to see what we've already found.

What is GBL exactly?

The first thing to be aware of is that GBL, GHB and 1,4-BD are actually different things, but they’re often used interchangeably. You can’t assume that what you think is GHB is actually GHB, and not GBL, and vice versa. They’re also referred to as G, waz, mils, fantasy, liquid ecstasy, rinse and juice.

GHB (Gamma hydroxybutyrate) is an anaesthetic, with relaxing, euphoric effects, which is why it’s sometimes called liquid ecstasy. The effects of GHB usually occur within 15-20 minutes and last up to 3-4 hours.

GBL (Gamma butyrolactone) is a prodrug of GHB, which means it’s converted to GHB inside the body after swallowing. It has a faster onset of action, and is more potent, so smaller doses are needed to achieve the same effect.

1,4-BD, like GBL, is converted to GHB in the body once ingested, producing identical effects. It’s a chemical and is industrially used to make floor stripper, paint thinner, and other solvent products.

GHB was originally developed in the USA as a pre-medication to help patients sleep before surgery. The sedative properties of the drug, as well as its neutral odour and taste, has led to a reputation for it being used to facilitate sexual assault.

What are the effects of GBL?

People who take GBL, GHB or 1,4-BD report feeling euphoric, with a loss of inhibitions, increased confidence and higher libido. Other effects can include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Problems with vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Slow heart rate
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of consciousness

All three substances present as a clear, oily liquid, and is usually mixed with water or soft drinks. It is sold in small bottles or capsules.

You can find out more, including information on dosing and comedowns, here on The Level.

Has anything about GBL changed in New Zealand recently?

Recently, a GBL sample was presented to drug checking that was found to contain 1-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP). This isn’t new to New Zealand, but it hasn’t been seen in a number of years.

NMP is often mixed with GBL for legitimate industrial purposes, and that combined product can be diverted and end up in the illicit market. There is limited information about the effects of NMP consumption and risk of harm. However, like all solvents, we recommend not consuming it.

It’s unlikely NMP is responsible for the increase in harm we’ve seen recently. High Alert will continue to look into this. If you or someone you know experiences unusual or unexpected effects after taking what you thought was GHB, GBL or 1,4-BD, please let us know through our report unusual effects page – it can be done completely anonymously. For updates on serious drug harm, please also sign up here to receive our notifications.

What are the risks involved in taking GBL, GHB or 1,4-BD?

The biggest risk is that it’s very easy to overdose because the doses are very small, and strength can vary a lot from bottle to bottle. This means the difference between the desired effect and an overdose could be a matter of millilitres. This is particularly problematic if you think you have GHB, and take a GHB-sized dose, but you actually have GBL, which requires a much smaller dose. There’s also an increased overdose risk when people re-dose too soon after their previous dose.

The sedative nature of the substance can leave a person incoherent or even unconscious, and unable to give consent. People who take GHB, GBL or 1,4-BD often report a loss of inhibitions and a higher libido. It’s important to remember that if someone can’t consent, it’s sexual assault.

These substances are central nervous depressants, which means they slows down brain activity, and impact bodily functions like breathing and the heart. This makes it particularly risky for people with existing heart or breathing problems, epilepsy, sensitivity to other central nervous system depressants, or general poor health.

While mixing substances is always a bad idea, this is especially true when it comes to mixing GHB, GBL or 1-4-BD and other depressants like alcohol. Mixing them can lead to nausea, breathing problems and even death. It can delay the time it takes for the effects to kick in – this can lead to re-dosing which increases the risk of overdose.

Evidence is emerging that dependence on these substances can develop quickly, with rapid onset of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms like hallucinations, insomnia, tremors, psychosis, severe anxiety, chest pains, and muscle aches. These effects can begin within 1-2 hours after the last dose, and can last a number of days.

Withdrawal can pose serious health risks. If you’re worried about your use of GBL and want to stop using it, please get medical advice. You can also call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or text 8681, for confidential, non-judgmental expert advice. It’s free and open 24 hours every day. Check out the The Level for more information on managing withdrawal.

How to reduce harm from taking G-type substances

Because there is such a fine line between the amount required for the desired effects and the amount which leads to overdose, it’s important to take extreme care with dosing. Remember, smaller doses pose less risk, especially since it’s very difficult to know how strong any particular batch is.

Avoid redosing, and don’t assume you can take the same amount as your friends – people can react very differently to GBL.

Treat every bottle of GBL, GHB or 1,4-BD with caution and don’t assume it’s the same strength, even if it all came together. Due to the chemical differences between these substances, it’s also safest to not mix different bottles in case they’re not the same thing.

Remember you can assume what you have is what you think it unless you get it checked. Drug checkers can test your G. KnowYourStuffNZ, the New Zealand Drug Foundation and the New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme (DISC) run regular drug checking clinics across the country – these are free, legal and confidential. Check the calendar here for upcoming clinics.

Avoid mixing with alcohol, and other depressants like alcohol and ketamine. This can lead to nausea, breathing problems, even death. If vomiting or convulsions occur, immediately call 111 and tell emergency staff what the person has taken. You won’t get in trouble.

These substances also affect your memory, so always record the time you’ve taken the dose and keep in a visible place.

Store these substances safely, especially out of the reach of children. If you can, use food colouring to identify it so it doesn’t accidentally get mixed in with other drinks or water. This can reduce the possibility of accidental overdose.

Avoid frequent use – if you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, please seek medical advice before stopping.

As with all drug use, it’s safest to have people around that you trust and who have knowledge of first aid. Don’t take it alone or with strangers.

Remember, always call an ambulance if someone:

  • is unconscious;
  • stops breathing;
  • has a seizure;
  • is extremely agitated for longer than 15 minutes;
  • has chest pain or breathing difficulties for longer than 5 minutes.

Call 111 immediately and then place the person in the recovery position and stay with them until the ambulance arrives. Tell the emergency responders what the person has taken – you won’t get in trouble and this can save someone’s life.

If you have any concerns about your own use of GBL, GHB or 1-4-BD, get in touch with the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or text 8681. You’ll be able to speak with a trained counsellor who can provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They’re available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential. You can also chat to the team through their website.