BBC News has a report on the increasingly popularity of gamma-Butyrolactone or GBL as a recreational drug. Actually, it’s not a drug in itself, but once ingested it is metabolised into GHB, a drug often sold under the name ‘Liquid Ecstasy’.
Actually, the effects are much more like alcohol than ecstasy (the street name is just a marketing ploy) and the similarities to alcohol can be seen in its structure and effect on the brain, as both affect GABA receptors.
The increasing popularity of GBL is particularly interesting, however, as GBL is legal, but the body transforms it into the illegal UK Class C substance GHB.
Compounds that are weak or inactive until the body transforms them into an active drug are called prodrugs, and this is the first situation that I can think of where a legal prodrug has been found for an illegal drug.
Probably the most commonly used illicit prodrug is heroin, which is metabolised into morphine in the body, but both are Class A drugs in the UK so there’s no legal benefit to having one rather than the other.
GHB is usually described as a ‘date rape drug’ despite the fact that it is barely used in ‘date rapes’, unlike alcohol, which is used in the vast majority of cases and is a much better candidate for the ‘date rape drug’ label.
GBL is closely related to 1,4-Butanediol, which is also a GHB prodrug. 1,4-B recently caused a scare because a toy called ‘Aqua Dots’ was made using the compound and had to be withdrawn after several infants swallowed the plastic pellets and became dangerously intoxicated.
Needless to say, the news inspired some to swallow the plastic pellets for fun and the experience was, inevitably, reported online.
GHB is a nervous system depressant, and like all depressants, a major danger is unconsciousness, coma, and collapse of breathing and circulation.
Consequently, there have been a number of reports of these cases being admitted to hospital emergency rooms.
The long-term toxicity of these substances aren’t really known, but as both GBL and 1,4-B are used as industrial solvents and cleaning fluids, it’s likely that they give the body a fairly rough time.
Link to BBC News on the rise of GBL use.