GHB used to be available as a dietary supplement in the U.S., but it was taken off the market in 1990 because of safety concerns. GHB and two closely related chemicals, gamma butyrolactone (GBL) and butanediol (BD), were linked to 3 deaths and 122 serious side effects. Nevertheless, secret production and sales of GHB continued, often on the Internet. Continued interest in GHB might have been fueled by GHB's reputation as a "date rape" drug. Under the Date-Rape Drug Prohibition Act of 2000, regulation tightened. GHB was classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, like heroin. It is now illegal for Americans to produce, sell, or possess GHB except for medical use. A prescription form of GHB remains available, but the only legal access to this drug is through a physician or other healthcare provider who is licensed to prescribe medications.
GHB is used for weight loss, muscle building, and relief of some fibromyalgia symptoms including pain, fatigue, and sleep problems. It is also used as an alternative to the dietary supplement L-tryptophan for promoting relaxation and sleepiness. People who are addicted to alcohol or narcotic drugs sometimes use GHB to help them manage withdrawal symptoms. It is also used to cause sexual arousal.
The prescription form of GHB has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder caused by the brain's inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy experience irresistible bouts of daytime sleep. They can also experience muscle control problems, paralysis, and hallucinations. GHB is available under the generic name sodium oxybate and trade name Xyrem (Orphan Medical) for the treatment of paralysis associated with narcolepsy. It is a Schedule III Controlled Substance, which means extra paperwork is necessary when this drug is prescribed, and prescriptions for this drug receive special scrutiny from regulators.
Health care providers use GHB intravenously to numb pain and reduce pressure inside the head after a head injury.
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