Peder Nelson, [email protected]
On Thursday (8/5), the US House of Representatives Commerce Committee approved by voice vote HR 2130, dubbed the "Hillory J. Farias Date-Rape Prevention Drug Act of 1999" after a young woman from Texas died after reportedly drinking a soda that was laced with a high concentration of GHB. The bill would place GHB (Gamma hydroxybutyric acid) into the Schedule 1 category for all "street" use, and list Ketamine as a Schedule 3 narcotic. The bill was amended to allow completion of a decade long research project that is looking into the effects of treating a rare form of narcolepsy (a daytime sleeping disorder) with GHB. After the project is completed, and if the FDA approves the drug as a medicine, GHB would be rescheduled as a schedule 3 controlled substance.
First synthesized in 1961 by French researcher Henri Laorit, GHB has been used as a general anesthetic, a treatment for insomnia and narcolepsy an aid to childbirth, a treatment for alcoholism and drug abuse, and an anti-anxiety, anti-stress, and anti-depressant agent. During the 1980's it was marketed in the United States as a dietary supplement, until the Food & Drug Administration banned over-the-counter sales of the substance in 1990. Since that time, the popularity of GHB has increased dramatically, particularly as a recreational drug used at raves, dance parties, and clubs, where it is used alone or, more dangerously, in conjunction with drugs like alcohol which can magnify its effects.
GHB's increasing prevalence as a street has coincided with the rise of raves and dance parties in the US. But a spokesman for Congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI), one of the authors of the bill, gave DRCNet another reason for the drug's widespread use. "The popularity of GHB is very much attributable to the advent of the Internet," he said. "We can't regulate people from being dumb, but we can take [GHB] out of the mainstream."
When asked how the Internet made GHB more popular, a spokesman for Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), the bill's sponsor, said only that "the Internet has made it easier to find a home-brew recipe or purchase and acquire this very insidious drug."
Since 1997, twenty-eight states have passed legislation that increased penalties for illicit use of GHB, prompted by an increase in GHB-related emergency room visits. GHB is reported to lower inhibitions, acting as a depressant similar to alcohol but generally with less toxicity to vital organs. But since over-the-counter sales of GHB were banned, it has been distributed without proper product warnings, labeling or dosage levels, which has likely contributed to its misuse.
Dr. Martin Sharf is a researcher at the Tri-State Sleep Disorder Center of Cincinnati, Ohio, who has studied the effects of GHB for the last seventeen years and hopes to see it approved for medical uses. When DRCNet asked him for a reaction regarding this legislation he commented that, "This is a law enforcement necessity not a medical necessity. There are no good drugs or bad drugs, just better ways of using them."
Critics of the legislation point out that 70% of "acquaintance rape" or "date rape" involves use of alcohol, according to the Department of Justice. As Steven Wm. Fowkes, Executive Director of the Cognitive Enhancement Research Institute, told a California State Legislature committee in 1997, "It is unreasonable to assume that scheduling will eliminate GHB use by criminally inclined individuals any more than alcohol prohibition during the 1920s eliminated alcohol use."
It is unclear what the effect of this legislation could be on the fifteen Investigational New Drug (IND) applications for GHB currently under review by the FDA.
The Vaults of Erowid web site houses a collection of writings about GHB from the academic, popular, and underground press, available online at http://www.erowid.org/entheogens/ghb/ghb.shtml. Visit http://thomas.loc.gov for the text of HR 2130 or any other federal legislation.