Gamma Hydroxybutyrate

GHB is a simple four-carbon molecule with a hydroxyl group on one end and a carboxylic acid group on the other end of the carbon chain. Before its use in DFSA, body builders who believed that it caused an increased release of human growth hormone abused GHB. Dieters have also abused it as an L-tryptophan replacement (4). However, it is the central nervous system (CNS) effects of the drug that are utilized in DFSA. This CNS depression leads to reduced inhibitions, euphoria and sedation with possible loss of consciousness (5). In March 2000, GHB was reclassified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. However, there are several legally available substances that are readily converted to GHB in the body following oral administration. These substances include 1,4-butanediol and gamma-butyrolactone (GBL).

GHB is well absorbed orally, has a rapid onset of action and is rapidly cleared from the body. Its duration of action is 3-4 h. About 1% of a dose of GHB is recovered in the urine as unchanged drug (6).

There are several reasons why GHB is difficult to detect in a clinical laboratory. There are no commercially available immunoassays to screen for GHB. It is too polar to be amenable to conventional thin layer chromatographic systems. There are color tests for the screening of suspected GHB powders (7), but lack the sensitivity for use with biological specimens. It also has a small window of detectability in the urine, approximately 12 h after use (6).

The analysis of GHB in biological specimens can be divided into two general types, with each type requiring a gas chromatographic or a gas chromatographic/mass spectrophotometry system. GHB may be converted to GBL by acidifying the specimen and heating it to high temperature. GBL has better chromatographic characteristics than GHB on a dimethylsilicone or methylphenylsilicone column. As a result, GBL can be extracted into an immiscible organic solvent, concentrated and chromatographed (8). Alternatively, GHB can be extracted unchanged by solid-phase extraction, derivatized to a trimethylsilyl or heptafluorobutyric derivative and chromatographed (9).

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