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Since GHB has become a scheduled drug and GBL a watched chemical, many people have turned to 1,4-butanediol as an alternative. The common assumption is that 1,4-butanediol is pharmacologically equivalent to GHB because it converts to GHB in the body. This is a dangerous and untrue assumption.
1,4-Butanediol is converted to GHB by the liver by the same enzymes which metabolize alcohol. The conversion is not instantaneous. When you drink 1,4-butanediol, it first goes through your digestive system unchanged, and is absorbed into the blood stream. It then circulates throughout your system, until it reaches your liver. In the liver, the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase first converts 1,4-butanediol into the intermediate aldehyde gamma-hydroxybutyraldehyde. This aldehyde then circulates around the body until another liver enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase, oxidizes it into GHB. The process of conversion from 1,4-butanediol to GHB is not instantaneous, as is evidenced by the much longer lasting effects of 1,4-butanediol compared to GHB. People who have lower levels of the enzymes involved (such as Native Americans) will take even longer to convert the chemical. If alcohol is in the system at the same time as 1,4-butanediol, the enzymes will work on the alcohol first, leaving the 1,4-butanediol circulating in the system even longer (see "1,4-Butanediol and ethanol compete for degradation in rat brain and liver in vitro" by F. Poldrugo and O. C. Snead).
It is foolish to assume that 1,4-butanediol has no effects of its own on the body. One paper by F. Poldrugo and O. C. Snead ("1,4 Butanediol, gamma-hydroxybutyric acid and ethanol: relationships and interactions.") describes a study which shows that 1,4-butanediol has a depressant effect similar to alcohol's which is completely independant of its conversion to GHB. It also should be kept in mind that 1,4-butanediol is chemically very similar to the highly toxic ethylene glycol and propylene glycol - both of which are better known as anti-freeze.
There have been few studies on the safety of 1,4-butanediol. The one which is most often cited to show that it is safe is "TOX-54: NTP Summary Report on the Metabolism, Disposition and Toxicity of 1,4-Butanediol" produced by the US National Toxicology Program. It needs to be stressed that this study was done to determine the risks of exposure to it as an industrial chemical - factory workers spilling it on themselves, for example. It in no way was intended to study the safety of deliberately drinking it on a regular basis as a recreational drug. Various animal experiments have also been done to evaluate its safety as an industrial chemical, or as a trace preservative in things such as cosmetics. There have never been any studies done on long term use of the chemical as a drug, and the risks of such use are completely unknown. While GHB has been used by humans for decades, and has been studied as a drug, it is only in the past 3 or 4 years that 1,4-butanediol has been used by people as a drug.
That being said, there is a huge and growing body of anecdotal evidence that 1,4-butanediol is quite toxic when used long term in recreational doses, and that it has a very different pharmacological profile from GHB. I myself experimented with 1,4-butanediol for several months, and experienced some very frightening results. I originally wrote about my experiences with 1,4-butanediol in a post to the Lycaeum in October, 1999. Since that time, I have seen dozens of reports on the Internet and have heard stories from personal friends who have experienced similar strange reactions to this chemical. I present now a slightly edited version of my report on my experiences with 1,4-butanediol.
1,4-Butanediol (BDO) does metabolize into GHB, but the two do NOT have the same effects. BDO is a much "dirtier" high - alot of alcohol-like dizzyness, a tendency to nausea in higher doses, etc. I used BDO daily for close to a year, and eventually began to notice some long term effects which scared the piss out of me and ended up with me taking my 20 liter drum of BDO and dumping it down my bathtub drain. I am convinced that BDO has its own effects before it metabolizes into GHB, and I am convinced that it does not all metabolize... at least not immediately. I back this up by pointing out how much longer the BDO high lasts compared to GHB. The two drugs feel VERY different to me, and if I were given one or the other in a blind test I could easily distinguish the rather toxic feeling BDO effects from the clean euphoric feeling of GHB. Nausea, vomiting, spinning-room syndrome, etc are all very common with BDO... but pretty rare with GHB except in serious overdoses.
After using it for several months, I began to notice some of the following. Many other BDO users Ive spoken with noticed the same or similar effects, in some cases more severe even. In most cases, these side effects did not develop until after BDO had been used near daily for several months. In some cases, people experienced these effects after only a few weeks of occasional use. Other people report using it for many months without any unusual side effects.
First, there were some skin problems... red, puffy, often itchy skin, sometimes rashlike, most common on my face - this would happen alot. It seemed especially common when waking up in the morning after doing BDO the night before. Sometimes this red puffiness would not be limited to just my skin, but would appear on my eyes as well - often accompanied by jaundice. Oily secretions from the skin, as well as outbreaks of acne, were also common.
Another common effect would be cloudy urine - which is a sign of kidney distress, among other things. Again this would most often happen the morning after using BDO but would happen at random other times as well, fairly commonly.
I experienced stomach pains after use, as have several friends. After seeing how strong of a solvent BDO is (I spilled some down the bottle and it did a pretty good job destroying the label), I can only imagine what this stuff must do to your stomach lining.
Another unusual effect I observed was a sort of coldness in my fingertips, combined with a tendency to clench my fingers, as if I had arthritis.
More disturbing was the constant feeling of fatigue and general malaise that developed towards the end of my BDO use. I felt tired all the time, and didn't feel particularly healthy. This would vary in intensity, sometimes giving me nasty headaches, but the feelings of unhealthiness were near constant.
However the most disturbing effects, the ones which made me decide to throw out almost 20 liters of the poison, were the cardiovascular effects. I began to experience strange chest pains, erratic blood pressure (usually on the high side, leading to headaches like I mentioned), weird heartbeats... frankly it scared the fuck out of me when these effects began to develop. I was running average resting blood pressures between 150/85 and 160/95, and I was only 26 years old at the time. I know of several people who sought medical attention for cardiovascular problems which they believe were caused by using BDO.
At first as these symptoms began to develop, I wondered if they were due to the BDO or if they were weird side effects from quitting smoking a few months prior. Experimentally, I decided to switch to GHB. The red puffy skin effects vanished overnight, and within days the cloudy urine and cardiovascular symptoms all began disappearing, and my blood pressure began dropping back to my normal 125/75. Within 2 or 3 weeks, the unhealthy poisoned feeling lifted.
Another difference is tolerance... GHB produces very little tolerance. BDO, on the other hand, produces a very noticable and strong tolerance. This is probably because it is an alcohol which must be metabolized by the liver into GHB. That means you end up with enzyme induction, and therefore tolerance develops. Although GHB itself can be physically addictive and can produce strong withdrawal symptoms, reports of physical addiction seem much more common with BDO, and the withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe.
One other thing to add... I noticed this a few times on BDO but it has never happened on GHB. Sometimes, with high doses, I would be laying there falling asleep or even totally asleep, and all the sudden feel as if I'd stopped breathing, and would suddenly wake up in a panic state and take a bigloud breath, sort of like the way you breathe in after having been underwater holding your breath for a while. Kinda scary... I've heard a few people mention this happening to them with BDO too. After all, BDO is an alcohol with its own depressant effects that have nothing to do with it converting to GHB (there are studies backing this up on MedLine). GHB may not dangerously depress breathing with normal use, but BDO may have that potential. And besides... we all know how mixing depressants is dangerous. BDO is one that comes mixed - its an alcohol that metabolizes into GHB. In other words, BDO is something like taking your GHB in a shot of vodka.
I stopped using GHB a year ago, mainly because I got bored with it and outgrew it, but also because I felt that it promoted a state of mind where I was numb to the world and apathetic about everything, including my own life. However, I think GHB is a relatively benign drug if used wisely and in moderation. It is probably as safe as drinking alcohol, and may even be easier on the body - though like alcohol, it can be both highly habit forming and physically addictive.
I can't say the same about 1,4-butanediol. I am quite certain that it is probably one of the most toxic drugs to come on the drug scene in a long time. I blame the war on drugs for forcing people to turn to it because stupid laws have made GHB illegal. I'd be willing to wager that future research will show 1,4-butanediol to be quite toxic to the body. In addition, I also found that 1,4-butanediol is a much less enjoyable drug than GHB. It produces a dizzy and somewhat nauseating feel which GHB itself does not. It produces a significant hangover, unlike GHB.
I strongly encourage people not to use this drug.
This document by Murple; distribute freely