Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a common drug of abuse that can produce serious toxicity, particularly when used with other sedatives. We examined the individual and combined effects of GHB and ethanol in human volunteers.
Sixteen healthy adults (7 men) were given 50 mg/kg GHB (Xyrem), 0.6 g/kg ethanol in 2 doses, alone and combined in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Plasma concentrations, heart rate (HR), blood pressure (BP), and oxygen saturation (O2sat) were serially monitored for 24 hours.
Adverse events included 2 instances of hypotension and 6 episodes of vomiting with GHB-plus-ethanol ingestion. Oxygen saturation was decreased by GHB and ethanol individually, and maximally decreased by the drugs combined (max −2.1% ± 0.3%, P < 0.0001 vs placebo). Compared with baseline, systolic and diastolic BP were significantly decreased, and HR was increased by ethanol but not affected by GHB alone (maximum systolic BP change −15.7 ± 3.0 mm Hg, P = 0.0006; maximum HR change 13.5 ± 2.3 beats per minute, P = 0.006). Ethanol coingestion resulted in 16% higher GHB maximal plasma concentration and 29% longer elimination half-life, indicating possible enhanced bioavailability or reduced clearance of GHB caused by ethanol, however, these effects were not statistically significant.
Modest doses of GHB do not affect hemodynamic function, but O2sat was decreased. Gamma-hydroxybutyrate-plus-ethanol resulted in more adverse effects, including gastrointestinal disturbances, hypotension, and decreased O2sat, but only minimal pharmacokinetic interactions were observed.