I Want a New Drug

"All I remember is that I was blacking out, and I couldn't move. My feet went numb, and every time I'd try to stand up, I would just go down again." Nelson is 25 years old, and his six-foot frame fills half of a velour love seat in the living room of a small Hollywood apartment. On the coffee table before him, beside a glossy magazine and butt-ridden ashtray, waits a plastic bottle filled about a quarter of the way with a clear liquid that looks and smells like water. It is not.It's GHB, gamma hydroxybutric acid, an illegal and unpredictable drug that depresses the central nervous system. Nelson is explaining how it once spun him into a G-hole, a period of vomiting and intermittent unconsciousness that lasted a total of an hour and a half. "Finally I went to the bathroom, put some water on my face, and it was…" he snaps his fingers, "gone."

While a little bit of GHB might make you feel sleepy, tranquil, or induce a slow-rolling euphoria, too much can cause your heart to slow precariously. You might lose consciousness or stop breathing. Or die. Most users know these risks. They've either endured them or watched friends and strangers convulse or lose hours tumbling in and out of consciousness.

Since its discovery three decades ago, GHB has wound a twisted path from legal anesthetic to outlaw opiate. When it reached South Florida in the late '90s, it entered the club scene as an illicit companion to Ecstasy and the by-then scarce Rohypnol. But unlike its chemical compatriots, GHB has since crept outside club culture. While it's still dropped by ravers and rapists, the drug has begun seducing college students, adults, men, women, gays, and straights alike with its promise of three or four hours of chemical joy.

As its risks become more widely known, state and federal lawmakers are stepping up efforts to curtail its creeping growth. Under a Florida law that will kick in this October, GHB traffickers can face first-degree felony charges and up to 30 years in prison. Third-degree felony charges will await those arrested for possession, like former FSU kicker and Oakland Raiders first-round draft pick Sebastian Janikowski, who was busted with GHB in a parking lot outside of a Tallahassee bar last month. If found guilty, Janikowski could pay up to $5000 in fines and spend five years in jail.

But the drug's prevalence remains murky, with law enforcement hard-pressed to discern the breadth of its use. The medical community has responded slowly, uncertain how to treat GHB addicts and often failing even to detect the drug in hospitalized patients because it can leave the body without a trace within hours of ingestion.

Unlike cocaine or heroin, GHB doesn't funnel through international drug cartels in presealed and measured packages. GHB mixers cook their goods in South Florida's kitchens and bathtubs, following recipes glommed off the Internet or borrowed from friends. They eyeball measurements. They wing it.

And they're not the only ones. Users have little knowledge of its chemical components, and each dose offers one of many roulettelike effects. GHB fans also spout their own misinformation, with some lauding the drug's ability to burn fat and build muscle, and others claiming it enhances appetite and sex.

The confusion is the rub, because what's most potent about GHB is its ability to deceive, proffering both delight and havoc as it burrows its way deeper into South Florida's drug culture."I was watching this thing on TV, and they had this kid, and he's all fucked up, and he was brain-dead. Somebody gave him a water bottle, and he drank it. But only half of it was water. The other half was G," says Ally, age 29, who's sitting on the matching couch across from Nelson. She crosses one leg over the other, and leans into a plush cushion. "He's alive, but he can't talk, and he can't move. He's all like bbbbbbbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr," she says, rolling her head around to illustrate.Ally and Nelson are college grads who have jobs and cars and apartments. They're middle-class, seemingly well adjusted folk, too old to be ravers but perhaps still too young to give up the occasional brain change.

Ally stands up to snap off lights. "I don't do any drug that I haven't researched," she offers while stuffing her small purse with an ID, money, and lipstick.

I'm not reassured. We've congregated at her place to plan our evening, which revolves around us taking G. Unlike my blasé companions, I'm sitting on the edge of my seat, laughing too loud at stories that aren't funny, playing with the silver rings on my fingers.

I play it cool and ask Nelson how much GHB I should take. Determining the perfect dose is a tricky business. GHB occasionally comes in pill or powder form, but typically it's a clear and odorless liquid. The effects can be random, depending upon body weight, other chemicals, and a user's own tolerance. It doesn't help that the people now making it aren't licensed chemists working in regulated labs.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Emma Trelles