Researchers have revealed that abuse of dietary supplements containing the toxic solvent 1,4-butanediol is on the rise, bringing an increased number of poisonings and even death.
1,4-Butanediol is an industrial solvent which converts to gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) after ingestion. GHB was initially developed as an anaesthetic, but its use is currently limited in the US to narcolepsy clinical trials.
The US government regulates the industrial use of GHB, which primarily attacks the central nervous system. But shortly after its regulation, GHB related products such as 1,4-butanediol and gamma butyrolactone, began to be marketed as a dietary supplement mainly as a recreational drug to improve athletic and sexual performance, and for those with depression or insomnia. These drugs are even sold as a cure for wrinkles, baldness and poor vision.
Case reports from eight individuals taking the drug detail symptoms of vomiting, urinary and faecal incontinence, agitation, combativeness, respiratory depression, drifting in and out of consciousness, addiction and withdrawal behaviour and, in two cases, death. The amount of drug ingested ranged from 5 to 20 g in the patients who died and 1 to 14 g in those who survived (N Engl J Med, 2001; 344: 87-94).