Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB)

The pain of fibromyalgia syndrome can sometimes become overwhelming. Dealing with the constant muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue produced by fibromyalgia can take a lot out of you, and may even make it difficult to participate in your daily activities.

However, there are number of medical treatments available to help you reduce and manage your symptoms. Gamma-hydroxybutyrate has recently been recognized for its ability to reduce fatigue and pain symptoms in fibromyalgia sufferers. This controversial drug may be able to help you reduce your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.

What is Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate?

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, is a neurotransmitter that is found naturally inside of your body. It is found in the highest quantities inside of your brain, kidneys, heart, and muscles.

Believed to be a neurotransmitter, GHB acts on specific receptors in the brain in order to regulate sleep patterns and pain sensations. Specifically, it inhibits the release of dopamine in the brain, enabling a person to sleep more soundly.

In the 1960s, a synthetic form of GHB was created in order to treat sleep disorders and other health conditions. Due to the frequency of GHB abuse, the drug was banned in the 1990s in both the United States and Canada. However, GHB is now available in the United States under the brand name Xyrem.

What is Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate Used For?

GHB is primarily used for research purposes only. However, in 2002 the FDA allowed a form of GHB, known as Xyrem, to be used in order to treat severe sleep disorders including narcolepsy and cataplexy. Physicians have also begun to prescribe Xyrem for other purposes, including:

  • insomnia
  • fibromyalgia
  • alcoholism
  • addiction

How Can Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate Help Fibromyalgia Sufferers?

Beginning in the late 1990s, researchers found a surprising link between the use of Xyrem and a dramatic decrease in fibromyalgia symptoms of muscle pain and fatigue. It is now believed that GHB can significantly reduce fibromyalgia pain and fatigue by increasing the amount of slow-wave sleep that fibromyalgia patients experience on a nightly basis.

Between 50% and 100% of fibromyalgia patients suffer from a sleep disorder known as alpha EEG anomaly. This sleep disorder prevents sufferers from experiencing the normal amount of slow wave sleep (also known as deep sleep).

As a result, fibromyalgia patients suffer from extreme fatigue. Additionally, it is during slow-wave sleep that the body works to release toxins from the bloodstream and heal damaged muscle and nerve cells.

Because fibromyalgia patients don’t get enough slow-wave sleep, their bodies don’t have the chance to heal properly, exacerbating other symptoms. It is believed the GHB can help to increase slow-wave sleep, thereby improving fatigue and other fibromyalgia symptoms.

GHB and Fibromyalgia: The Studies

To date, a number of different studies have been performed using GHB as a fibromyalgia treatment. The first study, which took place in 1998, involved 11 fibromyalgia patients.

These patients were administered Xyrem over a period of four weeks and then evaluated for fibromyalgia symptoms. At the conclusion of the study, all patients reported decreased pain and fatigue.

A second study, performed in 2002, involved 18 patients who spent a total of 17 nights in a sleep lab. This double blind, placebo-controlled trial administered three grams of diluted Xyrem, twice nightly, to one group of patients, and a sugar pill to a control group of patients.

Over 17 nights, patients taking the Xyrem showed an increase in their amounts of slow-wave sleep as well as a doubling in the amount of growth hormone secreted by their bodies (growth hormone is responsible for helping the body to heal itself). Participants who took the Xyrem also reported a 30% decrease in widespread pain symptoms and a 32% decrease in fatigue.

Side Effects of Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate

GHB and Xyrem are associated with a number of potential side effects, including:

  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • depressed breathing
  • lowered heart rate

In large doses, GHB can become very dangerous and has been known to induce hallucinations, comas, and even seizures. GHB should never be combined with alcohol or taken alongside respiratory depressants (such as Valium and Xanax). If a GHB addiction gets out of control, treatment centers can help.

The GHB Controversy

There is great controversy surrounding the use of GHB and Xyrem for any medical disorder. This is because GHB has great potential for abuse (it is also known as the "date-rape" drug, and has the potential to induce loss of consciousness and heavy sleep).

As a result, GHB is now a controlled substance and can only be prescribed by your physician and dispensed from a central pharmacy. However, more and more physicians are prescribing Xyrem for alternative uses, including fibromyalgia. With careful monitoring, Xyrem may be an alternative for your own fibromyalgia symptoms.


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