Why I went in search of buying the date rape drug GHB

Why I went in search of buying the date rape drug GHB

VicesSeptember 24, 2018 By Isabelle Kohn

I’m on the Darknet and I’m searching frantically for something I need. Illegal temptations scroll upwards towards the top of my screen, disappearing out of sight. LSD, cocaine, dirty photos, more cocaine, a guy named Stavros who will kill for you, more cocaine. Any of these would ordinarily merit at least a click, but not now. Then, I see it. The characteristic tiny brown bottle containing a minute amount of salty, odorless liquid.

GHB. Ten milligrams for $10. That’s 0.000832 bitcoin to you. I’d heard it was cheap.

For weeks, I’ve been searching for this stuff. Not because I use it personally — but because a friend of mine did. Involuntarily. It didn’t go well.

It’s not just her. Sixteen thousand people have overdosed on GHB and 70 have died since 1990, according to data provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This is, admittedly, a tiny number when compared with the 100,000 deaths reported annually by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) due to alcohol — but many experts believe that, because GHB is often undetected, these deaths may only be the tip of the iceberg. Thousands more people each year are drugged with GHB against their will — eight percent of college students report being dosed — and according to a new study published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Violence, that number is steadily increasing. Some are raped. The lucky ones escape.

Others dose themselves with it voluntarily. In the right hands and at low doses, GHB combines the energetic disinhibition of alcohol with the social and sexual enhancement of molly, but without the sloppy side effects like slurred speech or hangovers. This is why one of my contacts describes it as “the greatest thing that’s ever happened to (him).”

In the wrong hands at high doses however, it’s the reason my other friend woke up stripped naked with a strange, bruised feeling emanating from between her legs.

Yet, despite it’s popularity as both a date rape tool and a recreational club drug, GHB is almost impossible to find. There are no two-for-one black market specials for shrooms and GHB. If you want some, would you even know who to call?

My guess is, you wouldn’t. I know, because I spent three weeks looking for it, speaking with every dealer and drug-enthusiast I could find, and found nothing but a trail of horror stories identical to my friend’s. GHB seems to be everywhere, but it’s nowhere at all.

That’s why I’m here, scrolling through Darknet drug marketplaces like Agora, Grams and Silk Road, trying to find out where GHB comes from, why someone would go through the hassle to buy it, and how it ends up in the drinks of unsuspecting victims.

GHB is a date rape drug, but it isn’t the date rape drug. Other drugs are used as nefariously — rohypnol, ketamine, and alcohol — but according to data from the National Drug Intelligence Center, it’s the dark winner of the popularity contest. The drug plays a factor in four percent of date-facilitated sexual assaults (DFSA), and while that number may seem small, the actual percentage is probably much higher. GHB is only present in the body for between 6-12 hours, so by the time many rapes are reported and adequate testing is conducted, it’s vanished without a trace. This, coupled with the fact that it’s dirt cheap, makes GHB the ideal drug of choice for rapists; since the victim is often unconscious during the rape (thereby making rapist identification nearly impossible) and the drug leaves the system so quickly, it is very, very difficult to prove that date rape occurred.

Whoever assaulted my friend knows this all too well.

Yet strangely, date rape is far from the only use for GHB. It’s currently making a huge comeback among fitness addicts, celebrities and people in the club scene alike.

Like many illicit substances, the stuff started out street legal. In the ‘80s, bodybuilders and hardbodies used over-the-counter GHB to help them increase muscle mass — it’s well-beloved in the gym community for its ability to promote the release of HGH (human growth hormone). The drug was available in health food stores and regarded as benign until 1990 when the FDA issued an advisory declaring GHB unsafe and illicit except under strict guidelines monitored by a doctor (it’s currently available as a narcolepsy treatment under the brand name Xyrem).

Yet, its subsequent DEA scheduling hardly eradicated its use. Just last year, police stopped John Stamos for swerving through Beverly Hills in his Mercedes, and found he wasn’t drunk; he was on GHB. And you know Nick Nolte’s infamous, disheveled mug shot photo? That was the result of a four-year long GHB binge.

And then of course, there are the ravers. GHB’s biggest fans.

A recent New York University study that examined the connection between rave culture and drug use in high school seniors found that the use of GHB was almost six times more prevalent among “teen ravers” than students who did not attend EDM events.

Why do ravers take the risk?

Same reasons rapists do. It’s easy to smuggle the liquid in water by putting it in a Gatorade bottle, eye drop container or contact solution bottle, and it’s very difficult for police to detect since it leaves the blood within a few hours. Perfect for those who face regular drug tests for other substances, or probation.

But despite its recent surge in popularity, its overarching reputation as a date-rape drug has made it hard to find on the street. After all, as an acid and MDMA dealer I interviewed earlier this year told me: “Most drug dealers don’t want to sell a product associated with harm.” Even if they’re selling it to people who have no intention of using it maliciously, most dealers don’t want the risk. Part of this, the dealer explained, is a “moral drive to keep their customer safe … but also, people will stop buying your product if it, you know, kills someone.”

However, GHB has to come from somewhere. For many people, that somewhere is the Darknet. There, dealers either sell GHB they concocted themselves, or resale a semi-legal version of it if they live in a country where it’s either still legal or less controlled than it is here.

On these dark markets, GHB is readily peddled to potential users and abusers with infomercial-like salesmanship.

One U.K. GHB dealer on Silk Road asserted his product was “made with the finest quality GBL for extra purity.”

“Store in a cool, dry place for maximum shelf life,” he advised potential customers, as if he was selling Vitamin C or olive oil. Supplies are shipped to the United States from around the world — you can dose yourself with Danish GHB one night, and Filipino product the next.

A 10 ml dose of GHB runs from $8-$10 on a dark market and goes up from there, depending on how much you’re looking to buy. Typically, recreational users recommend a dose of 3 mg for beginners and 5 mg for more advanced patrons, making a 10 ml dose a highly economical way to dissociate from reality. Anything higher than that tends to lead into blackout territory for all but experienced users … unless it’s combined with alcohol. Then your dosing can really get screwy.

My friend was drinking the night she was assaulted. Whoever did that to her might not have had to give her much.

Nearly all Darknet marketplaces operate like Amazon or eBay for illicit substances, meaning when I went there, I was treated to user reviews of the GHB dealers were selling. These keep sellers honest, and buyers can rate their purchases so people know which dealers sell worthwhile products.

On one Agora GHB review, one satisfied customer commented, “Works like a charm!”

I couldn’t help but wonder if that meant the rave went well … or the rape did.

That also got me thinking: how do black market dealers sell GHB in good conscience knowing fine and well the harm it could cause?

I was able to ask a Silk Road 3.0 dealer that same question. He (or she, for all I know) insisted on anonymity, and it took a couple of attempts to get him to talk to me, but eventually, after posing as a potential buyer, I got him to answer.

What they said surprised me.

“It’s my sincerest hope that my products are used safely and with good intention,” he told me over the Silk Road messaging system. “However, I cannot control my customers. If they wanted to commit rape, they could just as easily do so under the influence of alcohol, roofies, ketamine, Xanax … any pharmaceutical opiate. I sell it hoping that it makes my customers feel as amazing as it makes me feel. It really is a wonderful drug.”

In other words, you hope for the best. You hope that you’re facilitating good times, but if you’re inadvertently not, you don’t take responsibility for it because it wasn’t your intention. That doesn’t mean you’re not legally culpable in some small way, but it isn’t the dealer that drugs and rapes, it’s his customer.

There was a certain amount of humanizing closure I got from this. Knowing that GHB isn’t always being sold by terrible people looking to wreak havoc on strangers’ lives helped me, but more importantly, my friend, come to terms with how it ended up in her system: via the hands of a singular, shit human, not an underground marketplace hell-bent on encouraging rape.

Even stranger, how he spoke about GHB almost struck me as tender. It’s clear that some people really, really love this drug. Another Reddit user named Derrick4Real gushed about it on a GHB forum, saying: “GHB is the most wonderful drug I’ve ever done. When people asked me what it was like, I would always tell them, ‘it makes you feel like the most popular kid in high school’”.

This explains why it’s so hard to find on the street, but it’s thriving on dark marketplaces: a small amount of people use it extra maliciously, but a much larger portion of people worship it for its inimitable high.

Not all dealers aren’t quite as Pollyanna about GHB though.

According to a 2010 article by Radio Free Asia, vendors in China say they routinely ship out what they specifically call “date rape sedatives” to the West, with some openly claiming that the drugs can aid would-be rapists.

“I have three kinds of drug here — [for] sedation, an unconscious dream state, and date rape,” said one vendor from Fujian when contacted by a RFA reporter posing as a potential customer.

“The rape one is 980 [yuan],” he said.

A different vendor, identified by his surname Liu, told the RFA reporter that if he wanted “good result,” then it was “best to use G water [GHB] from Hong Kong. There are no side-effects. It’s an aphrodisiac. It won’t matter if the police come, because there won’t be any traces in the body after 5-6 hours. Do you want a sample? I can send you one.”

Thankfully, directly importing GHB from vendors like this seems to be much less prevalent method than Darknet-ing; after all, international importing offers very little of the privacy and identity security that dark marketplaces do.

But for those times you don’t want to go through the hassle of using the Darknet to buy drugs or import anything from China, GHB is also one of the easiest narcotics to make at home. Homemade GHB is actually what Andrew Luster, C-list celebrity and heir to the Max Factor cosmetics business, used to drug his victims with. According to an article by Salon, police suspected he got it from “college kids who’re making it in their dorm rooms.”

You don’t need much more than lye and varnish thinner to pull that off, and the Internet is full of recipes and manuals for amateur chemists that spell out just how inexpensive and straightforward the process is.

Reddit users on GHB threads like Dr. Dirk, offer helpful hints like, “Oxidizing agents can be employed such as potassium permanganate or calcium hypochlorite etc. It’s a 1:1 molar ratio so honestly for about $60 in Amazon sold products you can return ~475g of NaGHB in a single experiment. Anyone who wants it and is even remotely competent can make it.”

But while there are far more difficult things to make than homemade GHB, only the few, the strong, the proud actually make it themselves. Synthesizing GHB from its parent molecule GBL emits a very strong, very characteristic odor which quickly paints a target on the lab where it’s being made — something that doesn’t quite work in densely populated areas or shared homes. Plus, home chemistry kinda sucks when you don’t know what you’re doing.

Interestingly, GHB occurs as an endogenous chemical produced in the brain, acting as a natural sedative and nervous system depressant that can relieve anxiety and lower stress via increasing blood levels of dopamine. It’s also produced as a result of fermentation, and is found in small quantities in some beers and wines, beef and small citrus fruits. But the yield from natural GHB is small and time-consuming, so those interested in getting it either go the homemade route or do what I’m doing. The latter has been especially revealing in my hunt to understand its workings.

Taking a step back to reexamine GHB from a different lens, it’s not the drug itself that’s evil, it’s the person who uses it. Many people who swear by it aren’t possessed by the kind of inexplicable darkness that allows a small number of people to date rape, but the small number of people who do have driven GHB so far underground that it’s become one of the hardest substances to get hold of … at least in this country. 

If you want some, you have to really want some … and people do. Yet, it’s only available to those willing to risk their privacy and security online, or for wannabe Walter Whites who see their kitchens more as laboratories than breakfast nooks.

Together, all of this information paints a likely picture of how GHB ended up in my friend’s drink, as well as the type of person that facilitated that process, unknowingly, from a distance.

Rape and date rape are both crimes of control. Arming yourself with knowledge about what happened to you can help you take back a modicum of that control, something my friend found to be true for her. Knowledge didn’t answer all her questions, or make everything better, or change the fact that she’s been permanently altered by the cruelty of another person. But as my friend said, “It’s not much … but it’s something.”

In a situation like hers, that’s all anyone can ask for.