Sip of Fools

GHB helps you dance 'til you drop. Dead, maybe.

Ellison's communiqué described the GHB overdose at Amsterdam that morning, as well as the club's reaction and his subsequent conversation with Bassoukos. In his letter, Ellison asserted that "GHB use is on the rise [in Denver], and it is a very tricky and difficult drug. Taking a cap full of GHB may routinely be fine for a club-goer, but the very same cap full two weeks later can result in a coma." He closed with a litany of policy suggestions for public officials, club owners and gay activists in Denver.

Among his suggestions: "Identify the trend of GHB use in Denver, and especially within the Denver gay population"; "create a community conversation between gay-centric organizations, hospitals, club managers and Denver officials to identify and address proper responses when a clubber overdoses"; and "engage in a public-relations campaign to raise public awareness about the fickleness of the drug, the possible consequences, and appropriate responses when an overdose occurs."

Cantrill argues that there is only one response that qualifies as appropriate: Get the victim to a hospital, fast.

John Johnston
Stop the madness: Allen Ellison wants to educate club-goers to the dangers of GHB.
John Johnston
Stop the madness: Allen Ellison wants to educate club-goers to the dangers of GHB.


Read a Phoenix New Times related feature story about the drug trade in Phoenix's club and rave scene, "Evil Empire."

"If someone's comatose, they really do need to have a professional evaluation," he says. "I would hate to have someone die because the doormen or club owners are trying to avoid having to call an ambulance. Sure, it's bad publicity to have an ambulance come screaming up to your club, but it's also really bad publicity to have somebody die."

Home-brewing GHB is so elementary that the process makes cooking up crystal meth in a bathtub look like a feat of genius. Not counting water, there are only two ingredients in the GHB recipe, which is widely available on the Internet. One is lye. The other is a popular bodybuilding supplement that is also a component in many industrial solvents. Mix the two together and poof: GHB.

"The main thing you have to make sure of is to dissolve all the lye," says Rainman (his club-culture nickname), 26, a low-level GHB maker and dealer who lives in Boulder. "When people swallow lye, bad things happen."

Rainman's GHB laboratory consists of a hot plate, a scale, a packet of litmus paper, a measuring cup and a Pyrex saucepot. He estimates the raw ingredients for a liter of GHB costs him three dollars. He sells his liters for $150, yielding a profit of nearly 5,000 percent per liter, each of which takes him about half an hour to concoct.

"I basically just make enough for myself, to have around for parties or for when people come back to the house after a night out," he says. "I probably go through a bottle a month in terms of personal consumption between me and my friends and their friends plus friends of their friends, and I don't take money for it if someone's doing it at my place. In terms of selling, I probably sell about one bottle every week or so."

GHB is naturally colorless and looks like water. Which is why Rainman dyes the GHB he makes bright blue with food coloring. "You wouldn't believe how many horror stories there are of someone who's drunk and they see a big glass of GHB at a party and they start chugging it because they think it's water or vodka or whatever," he says. "That's the way people get themselves in bad shape on GHB. Either that or they're drunk and on Ecstasy and snorting coke and smoking weed and, hey, they've never tried GHB before, but they figure, why not put a little cherry on top of their party sundae?"

Another reason Rainman sells only blue GHB is so that it can't be used to facilitate date rape in the form of a Mickey Finn. "I don't need some frat boy slipping stuff I make into some sorority babe's wine cooler, trying to knock her out," he says. "Believe me, I use a hell of a lot of dye. It turns about any drink at a bar you can think of this sort of sick, puke purple."

In March 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into federal law the Samantha Reid Date-Rape Drug Prohibition Act, which reclassified GHB as a schedule I controlled substance, subject to the same restrictions and criminal penalties as cocaine and heroin. The new law was named after a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore in Detroit who died in January 1999 after two male friends poured a large amount of GHB into her soda while they were all at the movies. Those two boys, who were eighteen at the time, are now serving five-year sentences for manslaughter.

Before the passage of the Date-Rape Drug Prohibition Act, the legality of GHB was a murky issue. It was explicitly illegal in some states but not others, although large-volume dealers were occasionally prosecuted under non-specific "dangerous drug" statutes. Colorado banned the drug in 1999, one year after a Denver man was arrested for operating a GHB mail-order business, selling do-it-yourself GHB kits over the Internet for $162.50 per kit to customers in states where possession of GHB was clearly illegal. The man admitted having sold forty or fifty kits a day and told authorities that he'd netted $300,000 in less than a year.

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